Patience and the Crucible of Life

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The Oxford English Dictionary defines “patience” as “the calm abiding, a quiet and self-possessed waiting for something”; however the etymology hints at the normal context, which is often very difficult. “Patience” comes from the Latin patientia, which is a “quality of suffering” – suffering with calmness and endurance, what the scriptures call “long-suffering.” And suffering you often are when you are forced to relinquish your desires, or when you are left to wait without recourse. Patience is oftentimes not pretty and may feel vapid; sometimes there is a storm before the calm. It is one thing to wait in eagerness for something delightful we anticipate will unfold. It is another thing when we must be a patient patient because we are not in control over suffering – our own suffering or that of someone else whom we carry in our heart.

Here is a disclaimer. Sometimes we should not be patient. Some things we encounter in life are urgent, and we must act now.

But in the normal gestation of life, we must often wait. Without our learning patience, we will miss being present to a great deal of life. Life entails so much waiting. When the answer is not forthcoming, when something is not being resolved, when the door is not being opened, when someone is not acquiescing, when we have lost any sense of controlling some circumstance, we may experience a certain anguish or anger. To experience the fullness of our life, we must learn to wait well. Saint Francis de Sales advises, “What we need is a cup of understanding, a barrel of love, and an ocean of patience.”  Patience is a quality of waiting.

Patience does not come easily to most of us, for several reasons. Our ego, how many of us grandstand our own importance on the stage of life, can be a great impediment to patience. What I want, and when seems right, when I am entitled. It took me many years to distinguish the adoring love I experienced amongst my own family-of-origin from my true place in the world. For some of us, the context of learning about patience has very little to do with us, personally, and everything to do with others. They have their place, their needs, their hopes and desires. I must wait my turn. Sometimes there are many people in line ahead of me. The Jesuit priest, Anthony de Mello, describes the necessary shearing of the ego that can happen as we grow older: “Before I was twenty, I never worried about what other people thought of me. But after I was twenty I worried endlessly about all the impressions I made and how people were evaluating me. Only sometime after turning fifty did I realize that they hardly ever thought about me at all.” The stage on which many of us learn about patience is discovering we are seldom THE STAR and more often the extra. We have an important and unique part in life, but so does everyone else. We must learn, listen, and become patient in the waiting.

Having to wait may prove to be a crucible to your soul, burning away what does not belong. You will not always get what you think you want in life. Jesus describes himself as “the gate” and “the door,” and sometimes he bars the way (John 10:1-9).  As I reflect back on my own life, I teem with relief and gratitude for so many things I thought I wanted but was denied. (In my younger years I was nicknamed “Curtis Armtwist.”) I realize now that had this-and-that or such-and-such have happened, I would have ended up in a very different place.

Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are denied our dearest hopes. T. S. Eliot writes of how we often want what proves to be the wrong things, and how “the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: so the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing” (T. S. Eliot (1888-1965) in Four Quartets: East Coker, III, 11. 23-8). Patience can even mean learning to be grateful for the doors that did not open before you, and, therefore, the new direction in which you turned which has brought you to where you are.

 

 


Finding the goodness in waiting, in slowness, is quite countercultural; however our having to wait may turn out to be a great kindness of God towards us.

 


 

Finding the goodness in waiting, in slowness, is quite countercultural; however our having to wait may turn out to be a great kindness of God towards us. The scriptures consistently refer to us as “children of God” (not “adults of God”). Children are not developmentally ready to know everything at once. There is a progression in our capacity to know, which God knows. The apostle Peter awakened to this realization. He writes, “Beloved, while you are waiting, be at peace… and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:9, 15).  Our experience of having to wait may, in actuality, be God’s experience of waiting on us until we are ready for more. Take heart. Simone Weil, the great French spiritual writer and political activist of the 1940s, writes how “waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.”   

Here’s one more benefit. Adding the phrase “patient waiting” to your soul’s vocabulary may be a helpful intervention to the onset of anxiety. There is a freedom that can be gleaned in your being powerless to know the future. God knows. God knows what you do not know, and God knows that you do not know. In the beginning of creation, God creates an interchange of light and darkness to fill each of our days. It is as true for the sky as it is for the soul. We can only bear so much light. Light can be as blinding as darkness. The eyes of your heart will be enlightened with as much light as you can bear (“The eyes of your heart,” an evocative phrase of Saint Paul in Ephesians 1:18). When you are in the dark, God is not in the dark. The psalmist writes of God: “Darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day; darkness and light to you are both alike” (Psalm 139:11. See also 1 John 1:5). If you are in the dark about something, your waiting invites patience for the dawning. The dawn will come in the fullness of time.

 

 


When you are in the dark, God is not in the dark.

 


 

Waiting patiently is not a limp submission. Waiting patiently is an active presumption that God is at work in our life in ways beyond what we could ask or imagine (See Ephesians 3:20-21).  When you have no choice but to wait, open your eyes and open your heart to what you otherwise might have missed. You do not have what you are waiting for – what is next – but you do have what is now. Don’t cut in line. Be present to what is now, even if it is full of struggle. You will find the companionship of God’s real presence in the waiting, which is the fruit of patience.

 

I waited patiently upon the LORD;

he stooped to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the desolate pit,

out of the mire and clay;

he set my feet upon a high cliff

and made my footing sure.

– Psalm 40:1-2

 


Questions for Reflection

– Do you struggle with waiting? What is it about the experience that is hard for you?

– When and how have you, conversely, discovered the goodness in waiting and slowness?

– What practices help you to stay present and grounded in times of waiting?

 


Patience does not come easily to many of us, for many reasons. Yet in this moving reflection, Br. Curtis Almquist suggests a few of the many reasons that being forced to wait can actually be a gift. We are all invited to discover the countercultural (and surprising) goodness of waiting.

Missionary

With each new dawn God calls us and equips us to be missionaries, in ways which only we, personally, can do. Our missionary field may be as focused as the neighbor next door, the clerk at the checkout counter, the person we encounter on the street. Yet we are missionaries, all of us. That is why we are still alive.

Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
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Companion

If you are befuddled or overwhelmed, open your heart to someone whom you trust, someone who can understand you, someone who says their prayers, someone who can mirror light back upon your countenance. Like Mary going to Elizabeth, go to someone who can companion and counsel you.

Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
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Pentecost and the Work of the Spirit – Br. Curtis Almquist

Acts 2:1-21

I was twenty years old when I was baptized. I chose to be baptized. I had been raised in a Protestant tradition of the church that understands baptism as an ordinance for individuals who are at an age of accountability. You had to be old enough to know what you were doing to be baptized. And this is just how it was for the first four centuries of the church. To be baptized one normally had to be prepared through a rigorous, three-year formation called the “catechumenate.” Only then could one personally make their own baptismal vows, publicly accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, and choosing to follow him.[i]

In a few moments all of us who are baptized will be invited to renew our own Baptismal Covenant.[ii] We will be asked to respond to a series of very exacting questions. Yes or no: “Do you believe…?” “Will you continue…?”  “Will you proclaim…?”  “Will you strive…?”  “Will you respect…? Will you protect…?” The Baptismal Covenant is earnest, adult language. And yet, while all this is going on, our baptismal candidate, Babatunde Baxter Ogunnaike, will probably have his attention on other things… like the stained glass windows, or taking a nap, or wanting his second breakfast… which all gives witness to a different understanding of baptism. Read More

Emmanuel

Every day we will be shown that life is too much for us to navigate alone. And God will greet us with a reminder from our past, to give us the clarity of trust we need for now. Or God will greet us with a visitation from the future, the paradoxical gift of faith. And that will make all the difference. Jesus assures us, “I am with you always”: past, present, future.

Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
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Intercede

Prayer is a mystery that begins in God. Our prayer is always in response to God’s initiative. It is God who has caught our attention. Mysteriously, in our prayer for others, we complete a triangle with God, our own self, and these other persons for whom we pray.

Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
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God’s Pity – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

Psalm 72: 7-8, 12-15, 17

If you have occasion to study a tapestry or quilt, where you can view both the front side and the back side, you often discover that though the front side may be more beautiful, the back side is more instructive and shows all the quite-hidden work that has enabled what is presented on the front side. That is a fact of life.

There is a word which surfaces in the Psalm we prayed a moment ago. This same word appears many times elsewhere in the psalter: pity.[i] The word “pity” comes from the same etymological root as our word “piety.” Pity is a holy compassion, and it begins with God’s piety. The psalmist cries out:

Have pity on me, Lord, for I am weak;
heal me, Lord, for my bones are racked.[ii]
The psalmist also proclaims:
[God]shall have pity on the lowly and poor
[and]shall preserve the lives of the needy.[iii]

Isn’t it so reassuring that God, as the master weaver, knows us: knows what we present “up front,” and knows from whence it all comes, our “back side.” Isn’t it comforting that God who created us, calls us, uses us, is thankful for us, knows us well, pities us with a loving compassion.

Today we remember our departed Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist who, over the years, died in the month of May. We cherish these archival memories of our predecessors. God took pity on them, the complex and sometimes-tangled threads of their lives, and wove into them such amazing, distinctive, colorful, often complex and beautiful lives. We remember these departed Brothers both with amazement and with gratitude. We also remember how they give witness to God who looks on us all with such loving pity, and with such promise.


[i]For example, Psalm 9:13; 17:10;  25:15; 26:11; 72:13; 109:11.

[ii] Psalm 6:2.

[iii] Psalm 72:13.

Joy

Suffering visits us, as does joy. Joy is a gift. There’s no need to wait for all to be well to experience the gift of joy. Joy is an elixir which God readily dispenses. If your heart is already broken open by suffering, it is also broken open to know joy.

Br. Curtis Almquist, SSJE
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Jesus’ Name; Jesus’ Heart – Br. Curtis Almquist

Br. Curtis Almquist

John 14:7-14

In my childhood and early adolescence I was fascinated by magic and magic tricks. Which also happens to be when I first heard Jesus’ words, “I will do whatever you ask in my name.” It was like my discovering the ultimate magic trick. I started asking away in Jesus’ name about most everything I fancied. Everything. It did not work. Not often. It was sure not anything to depend on. I remember “dropping” this Bible verse like dropping a fad. I only later discovered the context of Jesus’ invitation. It’s not just about asking Jesus; it’s also about naming Jesus.

There is an enormous power in knowing someone’s name and then using it. To know someone’s name gives you an access to their identity and a claim on your relationship. I imagine we all know when that power is misused, when someone “name drops.” When someone feigns to know another person – who they are, what they believe, how they can be accessed. If someone invokes the name of a person, but without the license to use their name, it will backfire, eventually… because the namedropper will eventually be exposed. People will know: the person whose name was invoked would not say that. It is inconsistent or incongruous… and the pretender will be discredited.

Which is the key in claiming Jesus’ invitation that he will give us whatever we ask in his name. We must know Jesus to invoke his name. We must know the mind of Jesus, the heart of Jesus, the words of Jesus to speak in his name. And the purpose, the goal for invoking Jesus’ name, is for one reason only: for the sake of love. It’s to know Jesus’ love and then to love others on behalf of Jesus, to love others in Jesus’ name.  Our asking things of Jesus cannot just be on behalf of our own private self, but on behalf of all whom Jesus claims in relationship.

Our community’s principal founder, Richard Meux Benson, says that all of us are related. Father Benson says, “Your life must be a relative life. The moment you are imprisoned in your own self-consciousness, in your own separate individuality, in the selfishness of your own separate existence, you commit a worse suicide than taking the life of your body.” Father Benson says that we are a relative being, and we have no existence except when we ask and act on behalf of another.[i]

We should take Jesus at his word, to ask away. Jesus assures us, “I will give you whatever you ask in my name….” In my adolescence, the problem was not that I was asking for too much; I was asking for too little. We need to know a great deal about Jesus and the enormity of his love – what Jesus would want for those for whom we pray – and then pray our hearts out. And in our praying, we should presume that Jesus will very likely reciprocate, in asking us, asking you, to be a part of the answer to our prayer.


[i] Quoted from Further Letters of Richard Meux Benson, pp. 36-37; 297.