07/19/2011 09:14 EDT | Updated 09/18/2011 05:12 EDT

Life, Opportunity and Patience

"Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"

So says Morgan Freeman, playing a wise and benevolent God, in the 2007 movie Evan Almighty.

I've remembered that quote very vividly, because I in fact, am constantly being given opportunities in my life to be patient. Opportunities to practice and learn patience, I like to say. Some who know me well, tell me that once I decide to go for something, I want it to happen "yesterday", if possible. Yes, I'm apparently that impatient.

Those who know me would probably agree that I have the courageous thing down, because I'm not often faced with opportunities to be courageous. The family thing; I'm blessed in this area, but am still given many opportunities there too. We can never have enough opportunities to love each other. But patience. It is almost laughable, often after the fact dare I say, how frequently this opportunity presents itself to me. Daily? I think so.

People tell me how patient I am when it comes to other people and situations. However, when it comes to myself, the word patience is like a word from an alien language. The interesting part is that I have spent a large majority of my life as a "patient", both in and out of the traditional medical system and it must have been my courage that got me through those dark hours, because somehow I followed my inner voice and marched (more like crawled) through with conviction. Often to the surprise and amazement of others who couldn't understand my choices. I was generally on my own, taking risks and trusting something that was perhaps unseen; far grander than science and statistics. The trusting, not so patient, patient. Kind of ironic. Patient as a noun is one thing. Patient as an adjective. Different story altogether.

The Webster dictionary definition of "patient" is "bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint." It sounds very simple when you boil it down to these few words, doesn't it? A noble virtue to possess. I wonder how many of us have this ability, in our daily "hurry up and wait" lives though. I've heard patience is one of the more elusive virtues to master.

On a recent yearly hospital visit, (I don't have to spend much time there anymore thankfully), I was once again given the opportunity to wait patiently, but this time it was in the lobby at the Starbucks. I was looking forward to buying my daily Chai (tea) and leaving the premises for another year. So, what do you think I was presented with? Of course, an opportunity to be patient while waiting in a long non-moving line.

Serviced by only one cashier, it was jammed because the first person in line was ordering for six other people and they must have been thinking this was a gourmet lunch spot, judging by how they were ordering. One of everything it seemed. Needless to say, the line was getting longer and longer and I was finding that any calm and patience I had, disappeared and left me increasingly anxious and wondering when they might call up another cashier to help us thirsty visitors. Practicing patient waiting, was not on my mind in that moment. Before I had a chance to speak up, (I often do that too, always in a polite manner, and generally everyone else in line is relieved I was the one to bring voice to the silent majority consciousness), the harried cashier asked her colleague to jump on the second cash.

Quickly another cashier showed and the next up in line was a doctor, I think, who proceeded to ask what seemed like at least three dozen questions. I heard the words "fruit choices" and "banana" a few times, and after what seemed like an eternity, he decided not to order anything at all and just walked away. Interesting how your perspective on time changes, when you're waiting and short on patience, don't you think? The great part is that I started a conversation with the lovely lady behind me, who was also calmly waiting, taking note of pretty much the same things I was. We both kept smiling, talking and observing what was going on in front of us. I wonder why we all continue to wait, when we know there is another shop probably just around the corner. Testing our own patience?

She mentioned that she finds these long lines a common phenomena at all coffee shops, suggesting it would be interesting if someone wrote something about this.

Writer to the rescue! I tell her, I am indeed a writer and she is excited and quickly wants to become a reader of everything I've written. Our conversation dispelled all feelings of impatience and soon enough, I was being called up as the next in line to order. The fact that I generally have to explain my choice several times, didn't matter anymore, because I'd made a connection with someone new and she actually said that meeting me made this, "her lucky day". Wow! I understood and acknowledged that if I hadn't have been given this opportunity to be patient, it's unlikely I would have met this interesting person who brightened and uplifted my day as well.

And so it goes. Every day we are offered opportunities to engage and influence someone else's day, if we choose to seize them. I also see how all my days as a "patient" have served me well and how I now have the ability to observe and be patient to the other's situation. I just need to keep reminding myself to practice this towards myself, I guess.

Funny, how some days we don't even have to say a word to the person, it can be something as simple as a smile we offer to a passing stranger, that changes their day. Practice being patient and keep smiling. Sounds like something I want to stay consciously aware of and actually continue to do. And believe me, it seems almost assured that the opportunity to be patient will keep being offered to me.

I question where my lack of patience comes from; a desire to get where I'm going faster and sooner perhaps. I sometimes wonder why I'm in such a rush, anyways. Maybe it has to do with my constant desire to fly, as I admitted in my walking article. I'm hopeful that one day I'll learn this thing called patience. I'm willing to practice. Not that I seem to have a choice not to. I had to smile when I saw this on the bumper sticker of a speeding car recently: God give me patience... Now!

Curious to hear what are the things that ask you to practice patience in your life.