Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

Essential thinking for reading Catholics.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The thing with patience, etc.

This is adapted (OK, shmushed together) from a discussion I've been having with a friend.

The more I meditated about the readings--in addition to meditating on our assorted discussions--the more I* see something of a pattern emerging. The clincher, of course, were the readings.

The verses from St. James' Epistle reinforce that God will give us wisdom generously and cheerfully and willingly if we ask in faith. (More on that in a moment.) Remembering specific past instances of God’s steadfast love in our lives and the astonishing wisdom of His word strengthen our capacity to ask for this wisdom in faith. The key here is not so much faith-the-word, but faith-the-concept, We have to ask these things with the "irrational" knowledge they will be given us. Faith, after all, is the soul stretching out further than it can see. Faith specifically denies three things: despair, fear and impatience. All three of these displacers of faith are related. When faith is lacking in some corner of your life, the result will be despair, fear or impatience or, worse, all of the above. They all say the same thing, essentially: "God's not going to come through for me, is He?"

Being a little bit fearful, impatient and/or desperate is like being a little bit pregnant. To be afraid is to lack faith in God's will, to be impatient is to lack faith in God's timing and to be desperate is to lack faith in God's providence. Speaking strictly about my own case, I struggle with a LOT of impatience and, for a piquant bit of seasoning, despair every once in a while. What I have learned is that whenever I let myself fall into the trap of "God's not going to come through for me, is He?" is that I fall.

As in the theological equivalent of down-the-stairs.

The other hard thing I have learned is that when catch myself falling I don't get a "do over" like kids do when they play a game. There is no mulligan. Just like when you fall down the stairs and you finally stop or catch yourself, you don't get to magically float back to the step you were on when you tripped. You have to schlep back up, step by step.

I believe this is God's way of making us--forcing us, even--to flex the faith muscle. God wants us to flex that muscle because NOTHING we do will be worth jack without useful faith. Until we learn to shrug off the impulse to meander away from faith, we won't be able to climb the staircase. In a way, the example of the Menorah in Solomon's Temple is reflected in our own lives...once you contaminate (i.e. by despair, etc.) the oil (i.e. our faith) even a teeny-tiny little bit, we have to toss it out and wait until undefiled oil is available before the light can be lit. (An imperfect analogy, but be kind...look at the time stamp and cut me some slack!)

In many ways, what I can figure out from all this is that we must start to learn (in my case) patience, i.e. obedience to God's timing, or serenity, or whatever our case requires and doing the work in front of us. I don't know if at some point I will be called to do something else...Start St. Cyber's Online Seminary or evangelize wayward Jesuits in alphabetical order or whatever. But I do know I am to do the work God has placed before me until He calls me--whenever He deems it best--to do something else.

I realized this when I was pondering something else entirely in my discussions with someone whom I was trying to bring back to participation in the Faith after a lo-o-o-o-ong life in which drugs, promiscuity, abortion and divorce have taken a toll (pray for her!). If God calls me to do something else, He will not only make it abundantly clear what it is, but He will also let me know, pretty clearly, the when.

Which brings me to the main point of this. Whatever it is God eventually wants from you, it seems to me you are lumped in with the impatient-with-a-dash-of-despair likes of me. God promised to give us wisdom IF we ask AND are willing to listen to the answer AND be a person of one mind and heart. The last one is what, I think, reinforces the premise of this email...we have to be a person of one heart and mind, which we can't be if we let impatience, fear or despair cloud our faith. In my case, even though I have an abundant knowledge of this, I still haven't gotten the self-control thing sufficiently well to actually internalize this. It drives me mental, to tell the truth.

So, um, now what? Do the work in front of us and as we do that, flexing our muscle of faith, the instances of impatience, etc. become less frequent and--check this out--we will be better able to see what it is God has in mind for us, and we will be better able to hear the Divine Phone Ring, calling us to

Now, I think we've been given two kinds of signs. One kind that means SOMETHING and the other kind that means "OK, be patient, don't despair, have no fear...just relax and the other kind of signs will become so clear as to be impossible to ignore or mistake." I have gotten these in my own life...and it's like a highway sign that reads "Rest Stop Ahead" and instead of rejoicing in that fact, I begin to self-whine:

"What if it's FIFTY miles?"
"What if they don't have a Subway's?"
"Is that a Chevron? That would be cool, because I have a Chevron card."
"I can practically see myself getting a cappuccino at Starbuck's!"

Then I worry about what that rest stop will have or what will look like, instead of concentrating on the driving. And maybe when I get to that rest stop it will be just as I hoped, or different but better, or just plain ol' different.

But patience is not just THAT. Oh, nononono. Patience is also much more than just waiting, it is also showing forbearance with the faults of people or their ignorance or their misconceptions. As one of these orthodox-flavored, Latin Mass types I show my impatience in abundance when people gush forth about tambourines and bongos at Mass, or when they enthusiastically mention something I consider a liturgical faux pas...and I roll my eyes or feel I simply have to correct them then and there and do so uncharitably. I am being impatient with them and, therefore by extension, with Christ. I need to work on that, even IF the tambourines and bongos and folk-y music drives me MENTAL. I'll try to remember to offer up the aggravation.

Lastly, we also have to remember that patience doesn't only apply to getting signs, signals, directions, indications and/or hints. It also applies to being able to assimilate and interpret them correctly. And the graces to do so usually come from doing the work God's plopped on your lap as an expression of faith. God's plopped a TRUCKLOAD on mine.

So, let's do the Lord's work (the harvest is a big one, and the laborers are few) until He calls us to come in from the field to work in the cellar, fermentation room or whatever. He knows where to find us and how to get our attention.

Pax et Bonum Dei,


* This is only what I see, and, until I can start get a prescription for Infallible Pills, therefore subject to Divine correction.


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