I have a friend who, every January, picks a Virtue she’s going to work on or embrace during the year. So if this were her year of Temperance, she would think about that virtue, learn about what it means to be a Temperate person, and look for ways to apply that in her life. It’s a nice habit, a good way to work on becoming a better person rather than just resolving to lose ten pounds. I’ve done it before, and it has always been helpful. For example, last year I chose to work on the virtue of Mercy, which was a perfect virtue for a year in which I found my capacity for dealing with my fellow human beings stretched in any number of ways.
You see, the truth is that I am not naturally a very Merciful person. I have a low tolerance for self-pity, and emotional self-indulgence. I get bored easily sometimes, and I struggle sometimes with being polite (not to mention loving) to people who are busy saying things I consider stupid and/or inane. I think that’s part of why I knit. It helps me keep my mouth clamped shut on the unkindly snarky things that want to come out. For example, there’s one person in our group who, every time he shares, turns it into a self-pitying Story of Woe of the vague kind that I find particularly annoying (you’re expected to sympathize with their trauma without knowing exactly why). All around me, the other ladies in the group make consoling noises, and say encouraging things, and basically sympathize like crazy. I, however, have to clamp my lips shut and concentrate on my knitting in order to not let this person know precisely how much I wish he would get his head out of his own butt, so that maybe when his vision cleared he might be able to recognize that there are other people in this world, many of whom have endured far worse things. Along with a few other things. And all.
While doing this might be oh so satisfying to me, it wouldn’t be particularly kind, much less loving or Christian or conducive to building a healthy and supportive community. On the other hand, maybe that kind of smack upside the help might be the best, most loving thing anyone could do for him. But it’s not my job to smack him (since I am neither his spiritual director, nor in any other position of authority that might justify that kind of bracing correction), no matter how much I want to. He’s just another soppy, self- centered boy who might or might not one day grow up to be a good man, and the fact that he’s trying to do right in his life shows that he’s at least headed in the right direction. So it’s ok to be patient with him, even if he irritates me, and give him the freedom to strive towards adulthood, just like so many people in my life bore with me while I groped towards maturity, and still bear with me today.
This leads nicely into the virtue I’m going to try to work on this year: Patience. I am not good at being patient. When things take a long time, I’m apt to get bored and wander away. When people aren’t changing, I’m apt to cut my losses and move on. When I’m not the person I want to be, I beat myself up viciously for my failings. For example, when I get impatient and annoyed with that poor boy, not only am I annoyed with him for taking up my time with self-pity, but I’m even more annoyed with myself for not being more tolerant. If I were better at this loving thing, after all, I wouldn’t have to struggle so hard to be kind, right? So this year I’m going to try to practice taking a deep breath and being patient: with myself, with others, with life in general. I’m going to try to stick with things even when I’m bored. I’m going to try to be patient.
We’ll see how this goes.