By Mary J. Davis
One spring day, one of my students at the Christian preschool and daycare center brought me a bouquet of peonies. The other children, especially the girls, marveled at the beauty of the huge pink blooms.
After letting the children gather around me to see the bouquet, and answering many questions, I placed the flowers in a sturdy, squared-bottomed vase. I hoped the arrangement would provide a good learning activity about nature. The children could touch the soft flower petals, leathery leaves, and sturdy stems. They would be able to see the blooms fade and fall off the stems while witnessing the natural progression of unopened buds blooming into more flowers.
I set the bouquet on a low table for the children, along with magnifying glasses, comical noses, and plastic ears to encourage them to use their senses. Color charts, rulers, pictures of peonies, an inexpensive digital camera, and paper with crayons completed the sensory activities I hoped to provide with this surprise bouquet.
The children know that anything on the table is safe to “touch and discover” (although they’re not permitted to place anything in their mouths). I was excited about the learning experiences my young students would have with the flowers. Little did I know the children would learn much more than I had planned.
An Unexpected Lesson
As the day went on, I was pleased to see that most of the children visited the learning table at least once. But I began to wonder about the groups of three or four girls who would stand around the table to shield others from seeing the vase of flowers. There was a lot of whispering going on, and I noticed that some girls were handling the unopened buds. When the children lined up for some outdoor time, several of the girls kept their eyes on the flowers, while also watching me when I got close to the table where the bouquet sat.
It was then I realized what was actually going on. The girls were not being dishonest or breaking any rules. They simply wanted to find the answer to the questions they had asked me when first seeing the flowers up close. “What are these little balls called?” “When will they (the buds) open up?” “What color will they be?”
Rather than discouraging this learning experience for the girls, I acted like I didn’t notice the spots where they had peeled back some of the green on the buds and the pink petals, trying to open the flower themselves.
The next morning I put the vase of flowers in a cabinet where the children couldn’t see it. The curious girls entered the room and were cautious in speaking to me. I acted like nothing had happened and greeted them as usual.
As class began I called the children to the story circle to begin our usual activities. But instead of reading the planned book that went along with our lesson theme, I got out a Bible and read the Scriptures about the fruit of the Spirit. The children volunteered their interpretations of some of the “fruit” listed.
“What does the word patience mean?” I asked the class. Some offered accurate definitions of the word and some told stories of how Mom or Dad often told them to be patient. With some encouragement to embellish their thoughts, we heard some pretty funny stories about times when the children weren’t being patient, like the “Are we there yet?” nagging that drives parents crazy, and the “fingers in the cake frosting” incidents.
Now that my little learners were relaxed and open to listening and offering their opinions, I stood up and went to the cabinet where I had placed the bouquet. Silence fell upon the room—except for some gasps and nervous giggling—when the children saw what was behind the door I opened.
The bouquet looked even more scraggly after sitting overnight. Most of the buds had holes where little fingers tried to pry them open. Some had been peeled open to the center of the bud and were pitifully small and wilted. But the already-bloomed flowers were still as full and pretty as when they arrived in our classroom the day before.
Patience then became a very real concept to the children, especially to the girls who had tried to hurry the natural process by opening the buds.
The mother who had sent the first bouquet entered the room while we were discussing the sad shape it was now in. I had called her the night before and explained the lesson the children could learn from this experience.
The entire group applauded as she uncovered a fresh bouquet of peonies. They were excited to see a pretty bouquet and to have a fresh start watching the buds open—this time without help. I knew the original purpose of the floral display would be accomplished.
Patience is about more than refraining from nagging, waiting for our turn in the checkout aisle, or replacing a broken washing machine. Patience is also about letting our children develop and mature in their own time. Patience is letting God move in the lives of those we deal with often, even when we think they need an immediate attitude adjustment. Patience is letting God handle the small stuff, the medium-sized stuff, and the big stuff—in his time, not ours.
When we try prematurely to peel off the rough edges of a spouse or child, we often prevent a potentially beautiful flower from blooming into its fullest and prettiest state. When we grow tired of gently urging friends and family members to become Christians, we risk turning them totally away from God.
When a project isn’t progressing as quickly as we would like, we may tend to take matters into our own hands. In doing so we may risk marring the reputation of others—family members, church members, or coworkers. That is when we ruin physical projects and cause a bigger problem, or have to live with a less-than-perfect outcome that could have been avoided.
When we think the church isn’t growing quickly enough, the benevolence committee isn’t helping enough people, or the church budget isn’t allowing for your ambitions and dreams to come to fruition quickly enough—that is when one impatient person can wreak havoc.
A Positive Force
Patience may make us appear neutral or simply laid-back, but it is actually powerful in directing our lives for the good of the church, our families, our communities, and our witness to the Lord. Patience can prevent hasty reactions and neutralize potential problems in all areas of our lives.
Like the school children who were impatient while waiting for the peony buds to open and reveal fully-bloomed flowers, our impatience can cause us to miss opportunities to see God accomplish many things. We may miss the slow transformation of people growing through gentle teaching, reading God’s Word, and following God’s plan for their lives. Without patience, we can miss much that God longs to do.
By letting the Spirit of God work in us, through us, and around us, we can demonstrate patience and be a witness of the beauty he puts in our lives.
Mary J. Davis is a freelance writer in Montrose, Iowa.
Patience is a daily skill the world seems intent on keeping us from learning. We’re encouraged to be in a hurry and find fault with everything in our lives. Here are some ways to train yourself in the discipline of patience.
1. Take a moment each morning to remember the importance of patience and ask God to help you live it out throughout the day.
2. Pause when you feel impatience rising. Take a deep breath before you respond to a frustrating e-mail or criticize a coworker. Take a sip of water before you discipline your kids. Give your better judgment the time it needs to overcome your frustration.
3. Keep a daily or weekly log of times when you were patient and times when you weren’t.
4. Apologize when you are impatient with others. Nothing helps drive home a lesson quite like having to say you’re sorry.
5. Ask for accountability. Your friends and family often see your impatience even more than you can, and they can provide gentle reminders to keep you on track.