Rabbis Without Borders
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Before motherhood, I was not a particularly patient person. Having children changed that.
At best, impatience gets you nowhere with small children and at worst it makes both you and them crazy. For example, I wanted my small child to toilet train on my schedule, but my impatience was no concern of theirs. Of course, eventually, the diapers were left behind, but it took a whole year longer than I wanted it to. On the flip side, as I waited I practiced being patient.
When I was not patient, which was frequently in the early years, the consequences were often bad for all. Expectations that we hurry out of the house, for example, ending in raised voices, tears and no appreciable change in outcomes. As I learned other strategies, for moving us out and coping with reality, I came to value and practice patience.
Patience came not only on from the daily experience but from the long term view. There were moments as a parent when I thought that my child would never learn, that no matter how many times I repeated a set of instructions about putting things back in the refrigerator or packing a school bag the night before they simply would never learn. But with time, I’ve learned that not to be the case. On any given day, it may have looked like failure but in the long term, there was success. As I realized that even when I could not see it, progress was being made, I shifted my mindset. Instead of getting frustrated in the moment, I learned to lean into patience.
I do not know when I shifted from being an impatient person to a patient one. But at some point in the last two years, my children, now older teens, were describing me as a particularly patient person. I laughed out loud, not really able to fully accept that I had — with their help — made a significant change in my life and approach. But as they described the value to them in their lives of my ability to be patient, as they learned to drive, as they repeatedly forgot to return things to the refrigerator, as their grades in a school subject were not particularly strong, I began to see myself as they did, as patient. In their telling, patience did not obviate high standards or expectations but allowed for learning and growing on the way to their destinations. And this was a vision of myself I was ready to embrace.
What started off as a tool for parenting has become core to who I am. Patience is useful in helping me navigate the daily annoyances like waiting at traffic lights or the doctor’s office. It has made a difference in my relationships with others. I am able to be more patient in the moment and often take a long view. This way I am able to enjoy so much more, focusing on the big picture on not the little annoyances.
Patience is also essential in the work I do as a rabbi. No clergy person can succeed without a strong measure of patience. Much of the work I do as a rabbi focuses on racial and ethnic diversity in the Jewish community. This is not simple work, it touches on issues that are emotional, political, historic and difficult to unpack. I have to be patient with myself and with others at every turn. There are no easy fixes to the problems I work on, it takes time, for example, to broaden the understanding of what Jewish looks like. When someone says something offensive or uninformed, I am able to lean into the well of patience to help move the discussion forward in a productive way. As with parenting, patience does not come at the expense of envisioning a better world or different reality but allows me to better navigate towards that reality.
Of course, I still lose my temper and can be impatient: Just ask my kids about last summer’s visit to the DMV. But I have come to embrace patience as one of the most profound gifts that motherhood has given me.