The Slow Attainment of Progress

“No matter what we seek, we go slowly to the attainment of it. Slowly is the spirit formed in wisdom; slowly is the perfection of art achieved; slowly does man become rich; and slowly are hearts conquered.”

— Bishop Luis M. Martinez from his book, True Devotion to the Holy Spirit

“I have more life experience than you do, that’s why!” My mom frequently admonished me as a young, spirited girl who questioned everything. I thought I knew it all by the time I was ten years old. Ten years seemed like a lifetime, and it was to me back then. I’d figured complex multiplication and simple division problems with ease. I conjured interesting scientific hypotheses related to animal behavior. I understood the shifting sands of the seasons as they cycled from spring to summer to fall to winter and back again.

Of course, knowledge and wisdom differ in vast ways. Everyone has information at their disposal. We Google instead of heft that old Britannica encyclopedia from the bookshelf. Modern life – the privileged life – is quickly accessed and discomforts easily assuaged. This is true for most of us in developed countries. My hunch is that we don’t consciously acknowledge that reality, because it is so ingrained in who we are as a society.

Still, every good and beautiful and true thing unfurls in time, not in haste.

The tomato seed we planted six years ago took four months of watering and nurturing before it revealed its first juicy fruit.

My first book took years to move from initial spark of inspiration to publication.

Our conversions often mimic the quiet fidelity of St. John the Evangelist rather than the dramatic burst of zeal St. Paul experienced.

And wisdom is acquired through suffering and age.

We see things differently as we get older. We become more patient (usually) with life, or at least we can learn to surrender small irritations that give way to greater burdens. What I didn’t realize at the age of ten was all my mother had already experienced in nearly forty years: The untimely death of her mother when my mom was only twelve; an unexpected hysterectomy when she pined for more than two children; the loneliness of growing up without siblings; the hidden suffering of chronic pain.

I’ll be forty in less than six months. My spiritual director recently mentioned that every decade of life carries a new invitation from God. Something in us stirs. We just have to pay attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit. The opportunity to enter into the psychology of the moment is fleeting. But I’ve learned, if anything at all, that everything that matters is revealed in these hidden moments we often overlook. What matters most to me these days are not found in the grandiose, obvious, or dramatic. Instead…

It is in the song of the lark sparrow, a rare sighting in my geographical area.

It is in the smell of the day lily, the delicate tendril of the flowering cherry tree.

It is under the shade of an ancient silver maple.
It is in the distant laughter of my children playing in the yard on a summer afternoon.
It is in sipping the hot tea with honey and lemon.
A whisper.
A prayer.
A handwritten card.
A touch on the shoulder.

A fifteen-minute walk around the block with my aging dog.

The suggestion to take a nap after I’ve driven Sarah to a new specialist.

Weekend mornings when Ben makes a huge breakfast for the family.

These are the brushstrokes of God that become the opus of our lives. If, as Bishop Martinez wrote, “The providential designs of God are hidden in human events,” (p. 194) then what can be greater than waiting for the slow attainment of change and growth and possibility everywhere — both in and around us?


Jeannie Ewing is a Catholic spirituality writer who writes about the moving through grief, the value of redemptive suffering, and how to wait for God’s timing fruitfully. Her books include Navigating Deep Waters, From Grief to Grace , A Sea Without A Shore For Those Who Grieve, and Waiting with Purpose. She is a frequent guest on Catholic radio and contributes to several online and print Catholic periodicals. Jeannie, her husband, and their three daughters (plus one baby boy) live in northern Indiana. For more information, please visit her website  Follow Jeannie on social media:  Facebook | LinkedIn |Instagram

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