Choosing to Thrive in My Circumstances
The First Characteristic of Love
In the last reflection, we discussed choosing love. In I Corinthians 13, a chapter that is known as St. Paul’s “treatise on love,” the first two words he uses to describe love is that “love is patient and kind.” (I Corinthians 13:4) If we choose to love (and remember that love is a choice), then we also must choose to be patient. If God’s two commandments to love are to love God and to love our neighbor, then the first way we love both God and our neighbor is to be patient with both.
Patience with Our Neighbor
Let’s first discuss patience with our neighbor, because in my opinion, that is actually the easier of the two to do. Our neighbor is the person who is in the closest proximity to us at any given moment. That “neighbor” might be our spouse or our child or our friend. And that “neighbor” might be a total stranger, like someone in the car next to us in traffic. I commute to work most days. And on many of those days I drive in traffic. When traffic is heavy, I get impatient, just like everyone else. Here’s the thing though—getting impatient doesn’t make the traffic any better, it just gives me a bad attitude. It doesn’t get me to work any faster, it just makes me more annoyed when I arrive. And it doesn’t really add to my life; in fact, it just adds to my stress which shortens my life. So a great place to practice patience is while driving, because I don’t know many patient drivers. I certainly am not one of them.
Patience with Those We Know
Then there is patience with people we know. These are people we are in it for the long haul with. Our families, our spouses, our children, our close friends. There is no way that any long term relationship continues for the long term without a degree of patience. Why? Because no two people are alike, and no two people see every situation the same way or agree on everything. If they do, that relationship is probably not very honest. Patience comes in when there is a difference of opinion. The more time you spend with someone, the more patience you actually need because the more differences of opinion you are likely to encounter.
Patience with Strangers
Then there is patience with those we don’t know, perhaps even those that are unimportant. We might think, I don’t need to be patient with this person, if we click or not doesn’t really matter. And that may be true in human terms. But what about in spiritual terms? If we really believe we are going to stand in front of the awesome judgment seat of Christ and give account for our lives, then it is going to matter what we’ve done to everyone we encounter. Practicing patience even with those we don’t know, or to those who we don’t think matters is, if nothing else, a spiritual exercise. We are supposed to be kind to all of our neighbors, not just the ones we are close to.
Patience with God
Let’s now go to patience with God—this is the harder kind of patience to have. Many of us think of God in benevolent terms. We think God is always supposed to be on our side, always make things work out for us. When God doesn’t make it come out like we think it should come out, it is easy to understand how one could become frustrated with God. We are supposed to love God. That is the first of the Ten Commandments — you shall have no other gods before Me, and one of the two great commandments—love the Lord with all your soul, with all your heart, with all your strength and with all your mind. In order to love God, just like we must do in order to love anyone else, we must have patience. The Bible tells us in several places that God’s thoughts do not necessarily match with our thoughts. His ways don’t necessarily match with our ways. Thus we need to be patient when we disagree with God on how life is going. We certainly expect God to be patient with us when we behave in a way that goes against His law of love.
Sometimes we need to be patient when His plan for our life doesn’t agree with our own plan for our lives. For instance, I know it was God’s plan for me to be a priest. I answered the call. My first choice when I got ordained was not to live in Florida. In fact, living in the South was the farthest thought from my mind when I got ordained. And yet, for all but three of my 24 years of ministry, I have lived and worked in the South. His plan and my plan were in agreement in terms of what I do. As for where I do it, our plans do not agree. And I had to be patient and let this plan unfold, and thankfully, years later I can say honestly that I’m happy and grateful to be right where I am. However, it took some patience to get to the point of happiness, because at many points along the way, I questioned and even argued with Him about it.
There are still some things in life that puzzle me, questions I have for God for which I haven’t found any answers. Hopefully one day, there will be a chance to ask Him any unresolved questions. Or may at some point before the end of my life the questions will either get answered or the answers will become unimportant. What I know is needed is to be patient and stay the course, wherever it leads, loving God and being patient as His thoughts may not match with my own.
Praying for Patience
Today’s prayer is the well-known “Serenity Prayer,” and I will include all of the prayer, not just the first part that we may be more familiar with. This prayer calls for serenity (which is peace that comes through patience) to accept things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can change (along with patience to change them appropriate) and wisdom to know when we need to be patient in accepting what cannot be changed, and to be patient in working to change things that can be changed.