“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of flesh and spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” ~2 Corinthians 7:1
I’m on hold with another medical billing company who doesn’t yet have our new address – or current insurance policy, or correct phone number. It’s an incessant scene that replays in my life on near daily basis, one that is internally maddening. I hate this process of impersonal contact with the automated answering service, the one that sends me to the operator after a twenty minute wait. Then I am transferred to the billing department and hear the hold music replay three times before being told I must hang up and dial an entirely new number.
I’m fuming on the inside, but my current daily meditation book is within eyesight of where I’m standing, and I notice it has been left open to a page that must have providentially meant to speak to me in this moment: “To overcome impatience, we can and should bear willingly even what we could avoid by checking the word of complaint or gesture indicative of our suffering” (Fr. Richard J. Clarke from Patience: Meditations for a Month, p. 12).
As I tap my fingers on the table and heavily sigh while my heart pounds faster, I pause to consider this bold statement. Do I willingly bear even what I could avoid? I could avoid this melodrama of phone holds and answering services. I could also avoid waiting to be transferred. But I have chosen to enter into the muck of waiting, and therein lies my opportunity for long-suffering, for patience.
The gentleman who answers my call clearly does not enjoy his job. He sounds weary and overwhelmed, only minimally providing me with the information I request. In his monotone replies, I am tempted to project my own harried weariness of the day onto him. But I glance over at the open book and remember to bear willingly what I could avoid. Instead, I smile, though he can’t see the nonverbal amiable gesture. And I respond with kindness and appreciation.
It gnaws at me, tears at the flesh of my heart to do this, because I myself am tired. I’ve been dealing with a teething infant who won’t let me put her down without screaming and two older sisters who have been bickering nonstop about which Barbie movie they want to watch later on. It’s all I do these days – mediate, redirect, soothe, and separate. I am shredded in a thousand pieces, and the last thing I feel I can manage is the simplest act of patience.
But here’s what I learn in that ordinary moment: patience produces many incredible spiritual fruits. These are not limited to, but include peace, hope, and joy. The result of my small, hidden act of patience – dying to my inclination to yell or vent – will generate a hundredfold in eternal spiritual gems. I can’t see them yet, but I know they are unfurling as gently as my heart is yielding to the unnatural act of patient waiting.
Everyone wants more peace in their lives. But we don’t necessarily want to practice the necessary patience required of us in order to achieve long-lasting tranquility. The key to unfaltering interior peace in times of waiting is to acquiesce with all that God places in our lives, to suffer all that He may ask us to suffer, both great and small. It’s the only way to true and lasting peace – suffering willingly that which we could avoid, simply because God asks us to.
Hope grows in us when we suffer without complaint all that God permits. Initially, we wait rather begrudgingly, and this is a dark waiting, one that seems dreary and drab, or in fact, fruitless. But over time, if we continue to suffer all that is placed in our daily lives, hope begins to swell and soar in our hearts. The darkness is transformed into the light of hope, because we begin to anticipate the future. Hope is where surrender to the present moment meets the promises God has in store for us when we wait.
Finally, joy is carried on the wings of hope, because hope creates a sort of eternal happiness that makes our burdens lighter. Father Clarke spoke again in a way that resonated with me after I hung up from yet another dreaded phone call in just a long stream of daily tasks. “How is it that out of sorrow joy can come? The reason is that if we are living for God and in dependence on Him and seeking His glory, then although in the natural order we may be crushed down with pain and suffering, we shall be full of joy by reason of the supernatural gladness that God bestows on us” (p. 31).
So joy requires us to hope in Him, to have a bold and confident faith that God will not delay in rewarding us with heavenly graces when we silently offer up our daily irritations to Him. Supernatural joy can only be attained when we live for God and bear willingly what we could avoid.
Father Solanus Casey often famously remarked that we should “thank God ahead of time.” St. Teresa of Calcutta had this incredible confidence when she prayed her “flying novena” of ten Memorares – the tenth being in gratitude for favors granted. I see now that patience refines in me a sense of unflinching, unfailing peace, which leads me to the skies of hope and the waters of joy.
We must live in the here and now in order to reap peace that is constant, steady, and surpasses human understanding. We need this peace in order to focus on God’s ways of communicating to us today.
But hope requires us to look ahead, to be driven by the confidence that God makes all things good in time. He fulfills His promises and never fails when we respond to all He asks of us – even the minutiae of ordinary situations that can be grand opportunities for holiness.