Patience… a reflection on the need to trust the slow work of God.

091813Impatience is a human problem, but we moderns must surely suffer from it more acutely. This is because many of our modern conveniences create the illusion, and to some extent the reality, of instant results. Flip a switch and the lights come on. Instant downloads supply our computers with music, games, software, and almost instant information.

Any delay in this process almost certainly infuriates us. The journey from east to the west coast used to take many months in a wagon train. And now it is accomplished in four to five hours. Despite this marvel, even a 20 minute flight delay infuriates us.

I remember as a child that we would be enticed to buy a certain product, say cereal, by being able to cut off the box tops. And, having saved four of them, I could mail them in to the address, to get a certain die cast or plastic toy, or other promotional product offered by the cereal company. Instructions always said, “Allow 3 to 4 weeks for delivery.” This is almost unthinkable today. What child would spend months eating cereal, clipping boxtops, and then wait 3 to 4 weeks for delivery?!

Yes, patience is a human problem, but it has a certain modern intensity about it. Expectations are premeditated resentments, and we have a lot of expectations about instant results. Thus resentments are always near at hand.

In the spiritual life especially and in personal growth we must learn to slow down to a more human pace, and also the pace of God. To many of us moderns, God is infuriatingly patient and slow. He, and the Church seem to think in terms of centuries, not a 24 hour news cycle.

And He leaves many things unresolved for quite a long time. Where was he when Hitler and Stalin and Mao and any number of unjust rulers were plying their wares? Why does he not thunder from heaven more often, as we sometimes read in the Old Testament?! Why does He not send jagged lightning bolts to destroy sinners from the face of the earth? (are you so sure you would escape?) And when will the Church he founded “get with the program” and start denouncing and excommunicating those who sinfully dissent?

Of course, while there is a place for discipline, even excommunication,  the Lord warned of acting too hastily in the parable of the weeds and the wheat. The impatient field hand zealously wanted to rip out all the weeds, but the owner warned that the wheat might be harmed as well.

Many of us may well wonder what harm could come from wiping out a few sinners from the face of the Earth or expelling a few more heretics. The Lord does not explain why, but simply warns that hasty and severe actions may cause harm even to the wheat.

Yes, we are an impatient lot, no only with others, but also with ourselves. Why, we wonder can we not simply overcome certain sins by sheer force of will? Why are we not instantly more chaste, more generous, more kind, more zealous, simply by deciding to be so!? Why do prayers of deliverance and exorcism not have instant effects? Why does confession not solve sin at once by its grace?

In an instant result society, discouragement is right at hand. And even when we do make progress, suddenly setbacks are at hand. “I was doing so well!” We think.

Most confessors know by experience that perseverance is good and holy, but impatience is devilish. It is especially devilish because it tries to masquerade as piety, saying “You ought to be a saint by now!” But it is really pride. Yes it is pride to think you can go from 0 to 100 and skip all the steps the rest of us poor slobs need to make. Who am I to think I can simply lay hold of holiness by a few decisions? Holiness is far higher than I imagine in my reductive insistence that I ought to be able to lay hold of it in a moment. No, this is a journey, a journey with setbacks, and progress in fits and starts. Frankly even a lifetime may not be enough and purgatory is a likely pit stop for most of us after death.

Why so slow? Because grace builds on nature. And it is our nature to change slowly, almost imperceptibly. When I was an infant I looked nothing like I do today. Frankly my mother was grateful that I did not come forth from the womb at six feet tall and 200 lbs. No, I came forth at six pounds, sickly and dying. I was baptized immediately since I was not expected to survive. But having recovered, I have progressed today to what and who I am. But at no point could my growth be perceived. It was slow, steady, and also marked by setbacks, injury, and also growth spurts.

If this is the case with our bodies, it is also with our soul, which is the form of our body. I have made remarkable spiritual progress in the last thirty years of my life. But day by day, I noticed little change. Yet, by the grace of God I am what I am.

Sudden a rapid growth seldom lasts an is usually called cancer, a deadly disease. Healthy growth is organic, steady, slow, and almost imperceptible.

Impatience is a form of pride and it is not in wisdom that we indulge it. Scripture says,

Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live. (Habakkuk 2:2-4).

Finally some words of reminder and comfort. I am not going to say who wrote these words because I have sometimes discovered that we care more who said something, than what is said. You can Google a phrase and find easily enough who wrote this. But for now let the words themselves have the necessary impact. I have little doubt these words will bless you as they have often blessed me.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.

We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability,
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;

your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

This video pokes fun at our impatience in modern culture and how it breeds resentment:

12 Replies to “Patience… a reflection on the need to trust the slow work of God.”

  1. I think that, “accepting the process” is natural to us but; goes against the grain in our desire (and its resulting efforts) to be first with results and, thereby, sacrificing quality to compete, rather than to compare – thus losing comparison’s result of learning from each other as we say, “I’m right, you’re wrong” instead of seeing that each of us has partial value in our on-going development. The twisted thinking that a fallen world has so driven into us that we think it’s natural?
    Wonderful book this came from. It’s evening and the Library is closed but, through impatience, I’ve gone to their web-site and found that they not only have the book but, which branch it is at and … I can even reserve it for pick up in the morning.
    I suppose that short cuts can have value if they’re about true efficiency (like a craftsman further developing his skills) but, if learning is by passed then we can fall into the trap of memorizing the results, instead of experiencing the understanding which comes from genuine learning. Sort of memorizing rather than learning.
    I live in one province of Canada and, relatives in another province told me (in the 1990’s) how the school system there adopted a policy whereby younger students had to learn basic arithmetic before being allowed to use computers; or even electronic calculators in school – thereby having an understanding which helped them to spot errors caused by not accepting the process. Other values of understanding as well. Don’t know if the policy is still in place.
    In the quotes I spotted, “We are not physical beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a physical experience.” used copy/paste in my impatience. What did I miss? This was like seeing an old friend in a crowd of, not strangers but, friends whom I have yet to meet and, seem to recall having used it here once.
    The new one which jumped out at me was “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.” Have I “got it” or is there more for me to learn from it if my awareness for what is yet to come from this quote remains open?
    There appears to be quite a few more questions than I used to be comfortable with however, now they beckon with promise of future learning. If I can only be patient. That thought reminded of what seems to be a good conclusion in a quote which tends to be critical of the attitude that it displays; “God grant me patience and please hurry.” Not meaning irrereverence toward Him but, to our pride.
    Also, Psalm 90:4.

  2. One of the problems with us is we are impatient not only with our own spiritual progress but I agree with you we are impatient with the progress of others. Jesus while ministering and teaching made very few converts before His crucifixion. Why should the success of our evangelism be any different? Why should the sinner and unbeliever today recognize the love of Christ in us for them without us too following Christ to the cross and crucifying ourselves in love for them? What appears to be a tare to us when it is young may actually mature into wheat. Saul was for all appearances a tare in his zealous persecution of Christ, but was just as zealous in his pursuit of Christ for God’s sake as fruitful wheat when he matured years after his conversion. Paul, a work of God, took years not minutes to mature in Christ. The apostles under the direct teaching of The Lord took years to mature. We must learn to see as God sees with spiritual eyes that He is transforming lives that appear to be tares to us but is precious, valuable, fruitful wheat to Him.

  3. I am a work in progress. Still a toddler wobbling on shaky legs. Abba holds my hand against serious injury, but allows me my bumps and scrapes so i learn to be more careful. How beautiful, how merciful and loving is our God.

  4. I especially needed to read this today. Thank you. I will trust in the slow work of God in my life.
    God bless you.

  5. We may as well be patient, as we have no other choice, in most things.

    “Hurry up! I’ll teach you some patience . . . fast.”–Paul Westerberg song lyric

  6. Msgr. Pope I can’t thank you enough for your grace filled blog, from which my soul and life have benefitted many times. Thank you for being dedicated to it and for teaching with a simplicity and wisdom. God Bless You!

  7. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    Thank you for putting up with my frustrations and rude behavior. You have become a spiritual guide for me this year and help me recognize God in my life each day. Your article on patience is so true about me. I hear God telling me to let go and wait. I have to catch myself driving and grinding my teeth in frustration wanting something to fix this problem or that ‘stupid’ person in my life. I come from an large family where anger and fighting was taught and cultivated through the generations, so teaching myself to let go of the fight and just give in has been difficult, but I think I am learning. The prayer of St. Teresa of Avila comes to me whenever is see something that I want to rail on. Thank you again and I’m sorry for my badness.

  8. “I want it all… And I want it now”

    This famous sentence from a well-known rock group song reveals many of today’s attitudes and problems.

    Technology pushes hard. Recently, a workcolleague, who is an atheist, speaking about Whatsapp and her daughters, exclaimed: Whatsapp is a devil’s creature!

  9. Thanks be to God you defied expectations and DID survive, Father! Your writings are a great help to me in my spiritual growth and for many others as well I suspect. Thank you.

  10. Dear Monsignor Pope, your blog, as ever, is at the top of my favourites tree. Your words enlightening and instructive continue to strike to the very core of my being. I have been a very great sinner in my lifetime and am ever a work in progress. Is it any wonder that St. Paul gives patience such prominence in his great hymn to love in 1 Cor. 13: 1 ff. I have become more convinced throughout my lifetime that this quality need be foremost in my dealings with others along with mercy and compassion. For these are the qualities that our Salvific Lord employs with me. I thank you from the depth of my heart for the great (and very humble wisdom of counsel) that your posts bring to me. I always look forward to them with great anticipation. May our Loving and Eternally Patient Lord continue to bless you in your work.

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