Lessons from a Snail {Patience}

“Have patience, have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember, that God is patient, too. And think of all the times when others have to wait for you.”[1] When I think about patience, the first thing that usually comes to mind is this children’s song about a snail named Herbert. Many of you have probably heard it. This little tune came in handy countless times as a child. A few impatient remarks from a sibling and I was off, launching into the slowest rendition of this chorus that I could manage, complete with pointed looks and total disregard for the task I was supposed to be completing in the first place. As you can imagine, this usually served to diffuse the situation and reform the wayward sibling. Or something.

What is Patience?

Beyond this song, I never devoted a lot of time or serious study to the topic of patience. But it is mentioned in Scripture numerous times; in fact it’s one of the esteemed Fruits of the Spirit, so I think it’s important and worth a little time and thought. Don’t worry though, this isn’t going to be a heavy theological dissertation that requires a lot of patience to get through. I just want to briefly explore what patience actually looks like in real life.

First of all, maybe we should establish what patience actually is. Dictionary.com defines patience as “the bearing of provocation, annoyance, misfortune, or pain without complaint, loss of temper, irritation, or the like.”[2] Timothy Keller says it’s “graciousness and steadiness in the face of delayed gratification.”[3] To me, it seems like patience is recognizing that something or someone is more important than what I want right now. It’s humility.

Practical Patience

So how does patience play out in the daily stuff? One of the first places I thought of where patience is sorely needed and sadly lacking is the road. More specifically, when I’m driving a car on said road. We all know there are some pretty terrible drivers out there, and they take every bit of patience I possess. Those of us who are something known as Superior Drivers often feel it’s our duty to help these lesser drivers recognize their depravity. But do we, in our roadway zeal, neglect patience?

I know we all have extremely important places to be, but maybe other people do too. There’s even the distant possibility that their errand could actually be more important than mine. Maybe it wouldn’t be so terrible to let that car, or even semi, in front of you, or to leave a reasonable distance between you and the van ahead of you that’s going .39402 mph below the speed limit. I don’t think vehicles are an exemption zone for living out patience, so maybe we could try to remember that those are real people in the other vehicles and they count, too.

I also find myself struggling to be patient with people who are at a different place in their lives than I am, especially younger people. I think it’s important to teach, encourage, and push others toward growth, but when I get irritated because they’re not where I think they should be, that’s my problem. Each person has a unique background, mind, and perspective, and their journeys aren’t going to look exactly like mine. I’m not that great, so I’m not sure where I get the idea that people need to think and act like me. It’s important to remember that the more mature people in my life are so patient with my failures, and I need to give the younger people in my life the same consideration. As my grandpa likes to say, “they’re not projects, they’re people.”

An Exercise in Patience

There was a time in my life when I had a coworker who didn’t really seem to like me. I don’t know if we just got off on the wrong foot, or if we were too similar, or what happened, but somehow we just didn’t really click. It felt like no matter how hard I tried to do everything perfectly, to remove any reason for complaint or annoyance, I was never good enough. I felt cheated, sometimes of monetary goods, but more often of the satisfaction, pleasure, and contentment in my job that I felt I deserved. I worked hard, I did a good job, and I tried to treat others kindly and fairly, yet it didn’t seem like I got that in return.

In a way, I tried to be patient. I gave myself a lot of lectures about laying down entitlement and perceived “rights.” I forced myself to keep being nice (most of the time) and working hard, even when it felt pointless. I prayed that God would help me love this person, because I was having a hard time doing it on my own.

I think I had part of the concept of patience down, but for a long time I was missing something. I tried to be outwardly patient, but inwardly it wasn’t really there. Timothy Keller says that the marks of a lack of patience are “irritability, self pity, grumbling, and complaining.”[3] I had all of those. When I was at work I felt constantly annoyed, sometimes angry, and usually very sorry for myself. I could act patient most of the time, but it wasn’t on the inside. I didn’t have peace.

Peace and Patience

We often hear of peace and patience together, and I think there’s a reason. Impatience with people, with life, or even with God destroys your peace. It’s good to keep doing right in the midst of trials or disappointments, but if you still feel angry or annoyed or unsettled all the time, I’m not sure you’ve gone all the way. For me, that required a lot of prayer for what felt like a long time.  But it helped. Eventually I could get through a day of work without constantly feeling angry or irritated. I never became best friends with my coworker, but our relationship definitely settled. So my advice is, take your disappointments to God. Pray for peace. Pray for patience. Pray for love. He is faithful to give you what you need.


If you want to learn more about patience from someone who is much wiser and cooler than I am, Timothy Keller has a very interesting sermon on patience. It’s about 35 minutes long and is based on James 5:7-12. I downloaded the mp3 for $2.50 from www.gospelinlife.com. If you have any questions, experiences, or general discussion about patience, leave a comment below. We would love to hear from you!

Carmen Carmen Yoder lives in New Paris, Indiana. She works part-time at a cafe, where she enjoys making messes (which she cleans) and chatting with “the regulars.” Her spare time is usually spent reading, entertaining her siblings, adventuring, drinking coffee, or criticizing [she means proofreading] Radi-Call articles. She loves beauty, especially that of God’s creation, different cultures, fellowship, music, and laughter. She desires to live life to the fullest and serve God in any way He calls her.


[1] Candle. “Patience (Herbert the Snail). Music Machine, Sparrow Records, 1977, track 6, YouTube, www.youtube.com/watch?v=9kn6Z2Mop5I  

[2] “Patience.” Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/patience?s=t. Accessed 14 September 2018.

[3] Keller, Timothy. “Patience.” 17 August 2014. Sermon. www.gospelinlife.com/downloads/patience-8622/ MP3.

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