Is Patience Always a Virtue?

The Last Bit of Toothpaste

It’s getting dark outside, almost bedtime. Jeff is in the bathroom brushing his teeth.

I walk into the bathroom too and grab my toothbrush. Jeff hands me the toothpaste tube. It’s been squeezed so much already that surely another drop can’t come out.

I say thanks but no thanks. I give the tube back to him.

And I reach for my own tube of toothpaste in the drawer.

He suddenly laughs and laughs.

I don’t get it. At first….

How Patient Are You?

Many people (myself included) don’t think they’re patient. We think we’re bad at waiting. And maybe we often are. (I was on hold with AT&T last week when my internet went down; don’t ask me about my patience.)

But maybe it’s not patience in general that we lack. Maybe our patience level is just dependent on what we’re being patient for.

For instance, Jeff and I do this unspoken thing with the ham.

We buy a full ham at the grocery store to have on hand for sandwiches. But we know we’ll never eat the whole ham before it goes bad.

So after the package is opened, it needs to be divided into smaller packages to put in the freezer. It’s a bit of a hassle. You have to fight with the saran wrap, and use up some of your time to do it.

Thus, nobody wants to open the ham.

If you’re first, you’re responsible for putting it up.

But if you can wait out the other person, they’ll have to do it and you’ll be scot-free.

It sounds ridiculous, I realize, and also quite selfish, which aren’t top traits we like to label ourselves with.

But what does this waiting bring out in us?


Incredible amounts of patience. Patience we never knew we had. I can patiently wait to open the the ham for days, thinking Jeff will get to it before I do. And he likewise.

More Patient Than We Know

The same thing is happening now with the toothpaste.

Jeff has been waiting for me to get tired of squeezing the tube so I would hunt through the drawer to find the new tube (and I confess, it can be a scary hunt through the drawer).

But when I pull out a different toothpaste I’ve been using for weeks—a separate brand I’ve been trying for sensitive teeth—Jeff confesses he has been holding out for naught.

He has been so patient.

So now he laughs. He had only been waiting on himself. He could have waited forever.

And I laugh too. I totally relate; it’s the kind of thing I do as well.

I may not always be patient with him, but I can be quite patient with my own procrastination, with my own avoidance of work, with my own faults.

I may not be patient enough with others. But am I too patient with my own procrastination, too patient with my own avoidance of work, too patient with my own faults?

Maybe we’re all more patient than we think.

And maybe patience isn’t always a virtue?

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Do you consider yourself patient? Share in the comments.

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15 thoughts on “Is Patience Always a Virtue?

  1. Martha J Orlando

    You bring us such great points about patience, Lisa; I had never really looked at the fact that patience can have a down side. Makes me feel a bit better because I do struggle with patience from time to time.

  2. Anita Ojeda

    Guilty! I recognized this ‘patience’ trait in myself a few years ago and I’ve been trying to form habits of just doing annoying things. Leaving them undone just creates a cloud of negativity around the task, making it more onerous than it really is. I’m getting better! There’s hope!

  3. Donna

    Well now, I’ll have to remove my patience crown after all. Almost everyone says I’m patient, I know I’m patient, but sadly, the ham and toothpaste apply more to me than the more virtuous variety of patience. My husband calls it stubborness….
    To add insult to injury my daughter just commented the other day that my 2 year old granddaughter Grace can “wait it out” just like her Gigi when she wants or perhaps doesn’t want to do something. So yes, I suppose patience isn’t always a virtue, or at least not one I command yet!

  4. Barbara Harper

    I had to smile at this. We do similar things with the toilet paper and paper towels (at least I do)–if I leave a little bit on the roll, I don’t have to change it. 🙂 And the garbage can–that’s not any one person’s job. Whoever puts something in that makes the garbage reach the top is supposed to take it out. We do a lot of compacting. 🙂 One of my biggest pet peeves is when garbage sticks up out of the top of the can.

    I had not thought of these things as selective patience, but I guess they are! And it’s so true we can easily be patient for the wrong things.

  5. Katie R. Dale

    What an intriguing idea. You articulate this concept well! I think longsuffering may be the word. Longsuffering is hard on us while we wait for something we want — we wait long and suffer during the wait, and patience in our own procrastination isn’t patience really, but turning a blind eye rather. Maybe the language could be clarified? It seems we are patient with our faults, but are we, really? Just thinking about my faults makes me feel defeated, and thus, it may or may not spur me on to change my behaviors, so using the word ‘patience’ with my faults may be misleading to say. Good thoughts! You got me thinking hard!

  6. Debbie Wilson

    Your story made me laugh. Back when our children were babies, our friend confessed he knew he only had to hold out longer than his wife when the baby cried at night. She wouldn’t last long. I call that type of patience being a rat! 🙂

  7. Lois Flowers

    Lisa, this post hit a little close to home with me, I have to admit! My husband would probably agree with Donna’s and call some of my “patience” stubbornness. ? It’s good to laugh at ourselves (like Jeff did) when we realize we’ve only been waiting on ourselves. Great post!

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