One of the things that make life complicated is that sometimes the right thing to do is to wait, to choose to endure, to put up with things as they are instead of as they should be. This is the virtue of patience. As I write this, it is the season of Lent, the time when Christians repent, do penance, and prepare for Easter. Lent is a liturgical season that teaches us patience. And oh my, how we need it this year!
A global viral pandemic has been raging for many months, and millions have died. Vaccines now exist, but not yet in sufficient quantity, and it will take a while before everyone can be vaccinated. Until then, difficult restrictions to combat the spread of the disease are needed: limits on gatherings, stay-at-home orders, lock-downs, masks. These are hard to bear, and seem harder and harder as time goes on. We want the pandemic to end, soon, and while there are some signs of hope, it will take more time.
To exercise patience while we wait, it’s helpful to think about what patience is. Patience is an act of the will, a lived resolve to endure difficulty, suffering or want, without protest or annoyance. For a Christian, patience is centered in God, who is living and active, working even when we cannot see him. Christian life is not just about us and what we do, it is also about God and what he does. Sometimes that means we need to be patient, while God acts.
Personally, I find this difficult. I like to accomplish things, to fix things that are broken, to renew things, to make things better. “Not doing” is not easy or natural for me. But “not doing” is what patience is. For me, there is only one thing that helps: prayer. Prayer is something to do when we can’t do: it is turning to the Lord for him to act, when we can not or should not act ourselves.
This “turning to the Lord” is the essential difference between prayer and secular meditation. Secular meditation focuses on ourselves, to master our emotions. Prayer sometimes has such aspects too, but the focus is not so much on ourselves but on another: God. This other is most certainly not ourselves, and thank goodness for that: he is far more capable! God has knowledge when we are ignorant, God is strong when we are weak, God can act when we are powerless. But because God is other than ourselves, he is free to act as he deems best. This is not always what we wish. This would be quite frightening except for one thing: we know God loves us. Jesus died to prove it. This is why we put crucifixes and crosses up in our homes and churches: to remind us, each time we look at them, how God showed his love for us even in the face of disaster, to remind us that God loves us no matter what, and to help us to always remember that even when things seem dire, we can trust his choices.
This is why prayer is the key to patience. When we can’t act, God can, and we can trust him. Always take time to pray, especially when patience is needed. Then wait, endure, put up with what is necessary, knowing that God is present, capable, and loving. Let us be patient, and trust in the Lord.