Patience is the ballast of the soul, that will keep it from rolling and tumbling in the greatest storms. All life is but one vast representation of the beauty and value of patience. Troubles and sorrows are in store for all. It is useless to try to escape them, and, indeed, it is well we can not, as they seem essential to the perfection and development of character into its highest and best form. But their disciplinary value arises from the great lesson of patience they are constantly inculcating.
Either patience must be a quality graciously inherent in the heart of man, or it must be acquired as the lesson of years’ experience, if he would enjoy the greatest good of life. Without it prosperity will be continually disturbed, and adversity will be clouded with double darkness. The loud complaint, the querulous temper and fretful spirit disgrace every character. We weaken thereby the sympathy of others, and estrange them from offices of kindness and comfort. But to maintain a steady and unbroken mind amidst all the shocks of adversity forms the highest honor of man. Afflictions supported by patience and surmounted by fortitude give the last finishing stroke to the heroic and virtuous character. Patience produces unity in the Church, loyalty in the state, harmony in families and societies. She comforts the poor and moderates the rich; she makes us humble in prosperity, cheerful in adversity, unmoved by calumny, and above reproach; she teaches us to forgive those who have injured us, and to be the first in asking the forgiveness of those whom we have injured; she delights the faithful, and invites the unbelieving; she adorns the woman and approves the man; she is beautiful in either sex and every age.
Patience has been defined as the “courage of virtue;” the principle which enables us to lessen the pains of mind or body; an emotion that does not so much add to the number of our joys as it tends to diminish the number of our sufferings. If life is made to abound with pains and troubles by the errors and the crimes of man, it is no small advantage to have a faculty that enables us to soften these pains and ameliorate these troubles. He that has patience can have what he will. There is no road too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste. There are no honors too distant for the man who prepares himself for them with patience. Nature herself abounds with examples of patience. Day follows the murkiest night, and when the time comes the latest fruits also ripen. Its most beneficent operations, and those which take place on a grand scale, are the results of patience. The great works of human power, achieved by the hand of genius, are but eloquent examples of what may be achieved by the exercise of this virtue. History and biography abound with examples of signal patience shown by great men under trying circumstances.
In the pursuit of worldly success patience or a willingness to bide one’s time is no less necessary as a factor than perseverance. Says De Maistre, “To know how to wait is the great secret of success.” And of all the lessons that humanity teaches in this school of the world, the hardest is to wait. Not to wait with folded hands that claim life’s prizes without previous effort, but having toiled and struggled and crowded the slow years with trial to see then no results, or, perhaps, disastrous results, and yet to stand firm, to preserve one’s poise, and relax no effort,—this, it has been truly said, is greatness, whether achieved by man or woman. The world can not be circumnavigated by one wind. The grandest results can not be achieved in a day. The fruits that are best worth plucking usually ripen the most slowly, and, therefore, every one who would gain a solid success must learn “to labor and to wait.” What a world of meaning in those few words! And how many are possessed of the moral courage to live in that state? It is the tendency of the times to be in a hurry when there is any object to be accomplished. In the pursuit of riches it is only the exceptional persons who are content with slow gains, willing to acquire wealth by adding penny to penny, dollar to dollar; the mass of business men are too apt to despise such a tedious and laborious means of ascent, and they rush headlong into schemes for the sudden acquisition of wealth. Or, in the field of professional life, we are too prone to forget there is no royal road to great acquirements, and feel an unwillingness to lay broad and deep, by years of patient study and laborious research, the foundation whereon to build an enduring monument worthy of public credit and renown.
The history of all who are honored in the world of literature, arts, or science is the history of patient study for years, and its final triumph. Elihu Burritt says: “All that I have accomplished, or expect or hope to accomplish, has been, and will be, by that patient, persevering process of accretion which builds the ant-heap, particle by particle, thought by thought, fact by fact.” Labor still is, and ever will be, the inevitable price set upon every thing which is valuable. Hence, if we would acquire wisdom, we must diligently apply ourselves, and confront the same continuous application which our forefathers did. We must be satisfied to work energetically with a purpose, and wait the results with patience. All progress, of the best kind, is slow; but to him who works faithfully and in a right spirit, be sure that the reward will be vouchsafed in its own good time. Courage must have sunk in despair, and the world must have remained unimproved and unornamented if man had merely compared the effect of a single stroke of the chisel with the pyramid to be raised, or of a single impression of the spade with the mountain to be leveled. We must continuously apply ourselves to right pursuits, and we can not fail to advance steadily, though it may be unconsciously.
In all evils which admit a remedy impatience should be avoided, because it wastes that time and attention in complaints that, if properly applied, might remove the cause. In cases that admit of no remedy it is worse than useless to give way to impatience, both because of the utter uselessness of so doing as well as that the time thus spent could be better employed in the furtherance of useful designs. Since, then, these two classes of ills comprise all to which human nature is subject, why not make a determined struggle against impatience in every form? It accomplishes nothing that is of value, divides our efforts, frustrates our plans, and generally succeeds in making our lives miserable not only to ourselves, but to all around us.
How much of home happiness and comfort depends upon the exercise of patience! Not a day passes but calls for its exercise from those who sustain the nearest and dearest relations to each other. Let patience have her perfect work in the home circle. Let parents be patient with their children. They are weak, and you are strong. They stand at the eastern gate of life. Experience has not taught them to speak carefully and to go softly. What if their plays and amusements do grate upon your nerves. Bear with them patiently. Care and time will soon enough check their childish impulses. Be patient with your friends. They are neither omniscient nor omnipotent. They can not see your heart, and may misunderstand you. They do not know what is best for you, and may select what is worst. What if, also, they lack purity of purpose or tenacity of affection; do not you lack these graces? Patience is your refuge. Endure, and in enduring conquer them; and if not them, then at least yourself. Be patient with pains and cares. These things are killed by enduring them, but made strong to bite and sting by feeding them with your frets and fears. There is no pain or cure that can last long. None of them shall enter the city of God. A little while, and you shall leave behind you all your troubles, and forget, in your first hour of rest, that such things were on earth. Above all, be patient with your beloved. Love is the best thing on earth; but it is to be handled tenderly, and impatience is the nurse that kills it. Try to smooth life’s weary way each for the other, and in the exercise of the heaven-born virtue of patience will you find the sweetest pleasure of life.
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