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spiritual fitness

How to handle road rage  
and the other things that make us lose our cool

I was stuck in a two-mile traffic jam, with my family in the back seat. Fortunately, we were not in a rush and were chatting as we waited. A huge Mack truck was directly behind us. For some odd reason, the driver kept blowing his horn. There was nowhere to go - traffic was literally parked.

At first, we thought he might have been blowing his horn for kids in a car nearby. But after another 15 minutes, he kept it up! We wondered what was going on. But then, as unbelievable as it was - the truck smashed into us and began to push us off the road. Thank God I avoided missing the person directly in front of me by inches. I got out of the car and the truck driver was angry and confused. I asked him why he had just plowed into my car. He said his anger got the better of him. It sure did!

Now, my own patience was put to the test. We certainly let the man know how wrong his actions were, but thank God I was given the grace at that moment to keep my cool. His own anger was diffused as I listened to him. The Holy Spirit gives us special graces when we need them. I needed it right then. The police finally came and took care of things, and it ended much better than it could have had I gotten angry.

Patience gives us the ability to endure many things. It reveals a wonderful dimension of selfless love. A patient person is more interested in the one before him than in his own needs or interests. Usually we think of patience in opposition to anger. An impatient person tends to quickly respond to situations in angry ways. We use phrases like “blew up”, “flew off the handle”, “exploded”; or people as having “a short fuse” or being “hot headed” to describe a lack of patience in a person.

Patience is a virtue of the soul. Remember a virtue is a habit of the heart - a way of thinking and acting in a consistent way that leads to specific behaviors that reveal Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of all virtues reside.

St Paul reminds us all that “Love is patient and kind.” (1 Cor 13:4) Patience and many other virtues will grow in us as we love, for love exercises these virtues.

I knew of a woman who took care of her husband for many years as he suffered with Alzheimer’s disease. She had to keep her eye on him all the time, for he might decide to go out in the neighborhood for a walk and forget where or who he was. Each day brought new challenges. It was difficult, but she knew it was so important for her to fulfill her vows - “I promise to be true to you in good times in bad, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health until death do us part.” One day, her husband got into some magazines and books that she had arranged and really made a mess of them. She got angry with him, then left the room to cool off. Her husband wandered in and said, “Oh there you are, my dear. It is so good to see you. Hey, if you go into the den, be careful. There is a strange woman in there, and boy is she mad.”

She was immediately hit with a sense of his love for her. What a humorous way to be reminded of the importance of patience. Her husband did not recognize her as the “angry” woman. He knew and remembered her as the woman who was patient.

Patience allows us to endure all the little inconveniences of life, and the difficult suffering that can come our way. No wonder there is the expression “he has the patience of Job!” Job was a man who suffered greatly. He lost all his family, his possessions and even his health. He was tempted to curse God and die. There are times when life presents horrible situations to us that would move us to being angry with God or others. How can a person endure except by God’s grace and love?

I got a call one day from the hospital of one of our parishioners. Their teenage son had just died from a rare form of encephalitis. He was probably bitten by a mosquito. He had been fine in the morning, but later that day he died. Many would be tempted to lose faith and turn away from God. Many would be tempted to be angry with God. Who could blame them? Martha and Mary seemed a little more than upset with Jesus when they sent word that Lazarus was ill and Jesus did not come. “If only you had been here Lord, our brother would not have died!” Anger often is present when tragedy strikes. In the case of the family who lost their son, they did struggle, but worked through their loss and anger.

What do we do if we recognize impatience within us? What if we have lost all patience with God, self or others? We want change and we want it now! Recognizing the anger and impatience within us can begin our inner healing. Our hearts need healing. What expectations do we carry within us about God, self or others? Maybe we need to adjust our expectations? If we find ourselves mad, hurt and disappointed with God, self or others, we must cry out. We surrender ourselves to God who knows our hearts and our pain. Remember how the Father sent his only son to us with great love, as a perfect gift, and we sent Jesus back to the Father, rejected and crucified. The Father allowed his only beloved Son to suffer and die on the cross. The Father understands the pain of devastating loss. Give it to him. We cannot bury and hide it from the Lord anyway! God knows our hearts.

Patience draws strength from the virtues of faith and hope as well, for patience always believes that God will make all things well in the end. Patience leads a person to inner peace.

Spiritual Exercise Praying for the gift of paitence

This month, pray for the gift of patience. Be ready, for you might find yourself in a storm! In my life, I have noticed that when I ask for a gift, often a situation stands before me that will directly call that gift forth. For example, in praying for patience, I might end up in many situations that directly test my patience. Look at them all as great opportunities that are full of God’s help. One old saying is that “God does not give us anything more than we can handle.” Another way of looking at it is that God gives us the grace we need to handle whatever situation arises! One help to receiving patience is to recognize the opportunities one has to being patient. So, for the first exercise:

1 Ask yourself what circumstances you face daily that test your patience. If another party is involved, sometimes we just look at them as the problem. Indeed, they may have a problem, but if we are not patient with them, so do we. How do you normally act? What would patience look like in your circumstance? Talk to the Lord about it. When you pray, think of Jesus. Think of his patience. How patient is the Lord in dealing with us! Make a decision to act patiently with others and yourself.

2 At the end of the day, reflect on how well you did. When during the day were you patient or not? What can you learn about yourself through your impatience? What kind of expectations do you have concerning yourself or others? How patient do you believe God is?

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