Time Urgency and the Virtue of Patience

We’ve all heard the expression “times a wastin.” Songs have been written with that very same title. For those who don’t demonstrate Type A behavior, the saying is just that, a saying. For the Type A person such a phrase is a mantra by which life is lived. Wasting time is the cardinal sin for which there is no forgiveness and can be no tolerance. Time is the enemy in the sense that time imposes a limit upon what can be accomplished. Essentially, for the Type A person, time is that constraint which cheats you out of more success and more accomplishments.

This sense of time urgency may lead to irritability with others, impatience, and a lack of tolerance. Time urgency colors everything and everyone from a Type A perspective. In his dissertation entitled, “Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of the Type A Behavior Pattern,” Tony John Sorensen writes, “Impatience or time urgency that is felt and manifested by almost all Type A individuals is the most commonly observed overt characteristic of this behavior pattern (Friedman & Rosenman, 1959). Type A individuals are reluctant to delegate tasks because they are insecure of other persons’ abilities which creates more time pressure. Impatience often becomes so intense that it creates a constant state of irritation. It is a persistent feeling that there is not enough time to accomplish all of the things that Type A individuals should get done.”

It does not help that our society praises this kind of an approach to life. In the workplace, such a person is often considered a “go-getter,” someone who can multi-task and accomplish many things at the same time. And all the while, time urgency takes its own physical toll. In this scenario, the body is constantly on high alert and in the “fight-or-flight” mode. Sorensen further writes, “It is typical for Type A individuals to despise waiting in line, because they worship time. They become angry when someone delays their progress and does not respect time the way they do. . .Type A individuals feel as if they are never caught up and must use every minute to achieve success.”

In this situation where time is given ultimate primacy, the thoughts run rampant and there is no room, or to be more precise no time, for the spiritual life. Prayer is difficult and full of distractions about things to do or how much time has gone by, because time, not God, is the ultimate object of adoration. Elder Paisios offered this elder-paisiosinsight, “It depends on how each one does the work, and what one has within him. If one works with humility and love, everything will be illumined, full of light and graceful, and he will feel inner repose. But if one has prideful thoughts, imagining that he does the work better than others, he may have a sense of satisfaction, but it doesn’t fill his heart, for his soul doesn’t sense it” (Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life, pages 180-181). There is certainly something timeless about humility and love as well something time-dependent about pride. In fact, pride encourages us to cultivate a sense of time urgency wherein what we do and what we hope to accomplish in order to feel as though we are really important become all-encompassing factors. Humility is the antidote to pride for it refuses to place the self with all her sundry plans above God and others. Humility is moreover acquired through patience that waits, watches, and loves. Elder Paisios once wrote, “When we patiently endure our problems and turn to God for help, we notice that He gives us the best possible solution. Unfortunately, in our days, people are very impatient. We do not love patience at all. Christ assured us, however, that only the ones who are patient will inherit the Kingdom of God. (“…they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bring forth fruit with patience.” Luke 8:15- “but he who endures to the end will be saved” Matthew 24:13- “by your endurance you will gain your lives” Luke 21:19) (Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, 1988). Impatience causes the passions to be aroused such as anger, lust, and envy. Saint Cyprian of Carthage recognized the tremendous benefit of such patience when he wrote, “It is patience that both commends us to God, and saves us for God. It is that same patience which tempers anger, bridles the tongue, governs the mind, guards peace, rules discipline, breaks the onslaught of lust, suppresses the violence of pride, extinguishes the fire of dissension, restrains the power of the wealthy, renews the endurance of the poor in bearing their lot, guards the blessed integrity of virgins, the difficult chastity of widows, and the indivisible love of husbands and wives. It makes men humble in prosperity, brave in adversity, meek in the face of injuries and insults. It teaches us to pardon our offenders quickly; if you yourself should offend, it teaches you to ask pardon often and with perseverance. It vanquishes temptations, sustains persecutions, endures sufferings and martyrdoms to the end. It is this patience which strongly fortifies the foundations of our faith. It is this patience which sublimely promotes the growth of hope. It directs our action, so that we can keep to the way of Christ while we make progress because of his forbearance. It ensures our perseverance as sons of God while we imitate the patience of the Father” (The Good of Patience, 20).

Time urgency can, of course, be good and beneficial when it is directed toward salvation and eternal life. When it is directed solely toward personal accomplishments and Abba Isaiah of Scetissuccess, it stunts the spiritual life and the voice of God within the nous. This is why it is good to be tempered by the virtue of patience. Abba Isaiah of Scetis in his Ascetic Discourses (Discourse 8) summarizes the teaching of the fathers in this way, “Finally, what is important is to wait upon God with all your heart and all your strength, to be compassionate with all people, to be full of compunction and pray to God for His help and mercy.” Patiently waiting on God and being compassionate with others in turn soften the tendency to be irritable, to be impatient, and to look at life through the prism of me and my projects. Prayer, then, becomes less distracted. Life becomes more peaceful. We become more gentle. And we have already reached the goal, which gives meaning to all our aims and desires. We have become patient followers of our long-suffering and compassionate Savior.

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