(Im)patience is a Virtue

(Im)patience is a Virtue

A couple weeks ago, we went shopping for seeds to plant in our garden. Over the years, we’ve planted a variety of things, including vegetables and fruits that are fun to watch grow, but which we haven’t actually enjoyed eating. So, this year, I insisted on planting only things we like to eat. We settled on tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, and cantaloupe. (Yum.)

One of the options on the seed rack was asparagus, which I love to eat. So, I picked up the package, only to return it to the rack when I saw that the days to maturity were 730-something! More than two years?! I don’t have the patience for that! That’s an overwhelming amount of time to wait—nearly impossible to imagine that we could put seeds in the ground, protect that garden plot through two full years, and have harvestable, edible goodness … eventually. No, thank you.

For much of my younger life, I was labeled as “impatient … like your mother”. I didn’t like to wait—especially not for family members who were running behind when I was on time, nor for hot food to cool enough that I could eat it without burning myself, nor standing in line for … whatever. I was unwillingly to endure anything that didn’t provide immediate gratification, or that required stamina for tasks that needed steady attention to tedious details, or that required learning a lesson that didn’t come easily to me. Once I was ready for something, it needed to happen now.

Maybe it’s still true, that I’m impatient about some things. But as I’ve matured, I’ve learned to practice patience, at least under certain conditions. I’ve learned that some things take time—especially things that require depth … deep roots, layers of understanding, trust in relationship. And, apparently, growth of asparagus.

I’ve also learned that some things benefit from impatience. Sometimes action is more important than process, especially when people’s lives are directly at risk. We are wise to heed Dr. King’s warning against the “mythical concept of time” and advising those most oppressed “to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”* It is possible, after all, to idolize a patient process so much that one will never act.

“Patience is a virtue,” as the saying goes. And impatience, at times, saves lives. The artistry is in the application of discretion.

Maybe I will plant some asparagus seeds, after all.


* Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., April 1963, Letter from Birmingham City Jail


  1. Kim B Jones-Fearing

    So often, we become so married to the process at hand that we forget to enjoy the mellow sweetness of the cantaloupes and the juiciness of the tomatoes.
    I n December of 2020, I decided to take action on an issue which was leading to statewide lack of access to mental health treatment. It was the blatant mental health mismanagement and discrimination by Optum behavioral health. I started a petition on change.org entitled “Take further action to prevent the further collapse of the mental health system in Maryland.” I have gotten over 1,600 signatures so far.
    Last week I got word that our state congress voted unanimously to hold Optum behavioral health responsible for their poor management of the state behavioral health system.

  2. Laura Lee Cox

    Plant asparagus when ever possible. There is nothing better to eat in this world then asparagus harvested in this manner. Put a dutch oven filled with water on to boil. Go out side and cut your first asparagus of the season, rinse well with garden hose. Place asparagus in boiling water for five minutes. Melt butter while the asparagus is boiling. Using your fingers dip a spear of asparagus into the melted butter and eat the entire plate astonished that anything could taste this good. The bonus prize is asparaguses fluffy fronds all summer are the perfect greenery for flower arrangements and are the ideal backdrop to gladiolas.

  3. Margaret LaFon

    Asparagus. Oh the memories of goodness when I was growing up. Asparagus bed was planted in deep fertile Oklahoma soils before I was born. My father did the tending of this established bed.

    Early summer each year was somewhat magical! When it came time to eat, one of us put water on to boil. Then someone went out to collect the asparagus, brought it in and put it in the boiling water. Absolutely delicious. After a few weeks, we had to quit gathering asparagus to let it seed for the next year.

    It was a long time after that before I could eat bought “fresh” asparagus. I still won’t eat it canned.

    So if you plant, you do it for the future. Not just the good vegetables, but also the good memories thinking about it and the other proceeds from my father’s garden still gives me.

    PS: I see someone beat me to posting the essential step of putting the water on to boil prior to picking. We didn’t butter ours. But we did butter the corn on the cob that came later in summer.

  4. Becky Reese

    As noted above, an asparagus bed may take some time to establish, but it will re-seed itself every year, so you only ever have to plant it once. It’s a long wait with a VERY long term potential benefit. This differentiates it from the other vegetables you chose, which need to be re-planted every year.

    I’m a strong believer in process. Neglecting process for quick results often backfires with poorer long term outcomes toward the desired goals. This is a very important and basic systems concept, and it is especially important when applied to organizational change efforts.

    Yes, there is urgency to saving lives. And in the long term, more lives will be saved by planting a self-sustaining (and growing) garden bed for change. That requires using process to our long-term advantage. (This is a good application for yes/and thinking.)

  5. Kathy Harris

    Asparagus will return each year after it’s established in your garden. The amount of plants doesn’t seem to increase much based on my experience so it won’t take over your yard and it isn’t crazy about sunlight. Fresh asparagus, raw or steamed is wonderful. Memories of my life growing up on a farm. It does like fertilizer in the garden, especially from animals and humans.

  6. Gail M Thompson

    When David and I bought our first house, the ground was entirely bare except about 1/3 of our acre in woods. We spread grass seed and waited for a lawn. In spring we found there had once been a garden on a small hill and asparagus was coming up and so was rhubarb, both in very straight rows. It was like gift from someone in the past to us as first time home owners. We lived there for 50 years. Patience is a gift.

  7. Paige Getty (Author)

    I love all the personal stories about asparagus and gardening and things! Thank you, all. And I’m glad this reflection resonated so well.

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