On Patience

When I hear the word saint, the first image that comes to my mind is not some Carmelite nun kneeling in a darkened chapel fingering her rosary beads. Now, I am sure many Carmelite nuns are saints, but they are not the first things I think of.

The first image that comes to my mind is a young mother in the parking lot at the mall, trying to get three children—all under five—into their car seats. It reminds me of someone trying to put an octopus to bed. The woman gets the first child buckled in his seat when the second one starts to scream, “Cookie! Cookie!” The woman digs into a grocery bag, rips open a box of cookies, and shoves one at the kid. Then she lifts him into his car seat. That’s when the first kid starts screaming that he wants a cookie, too. She fishes around for a cookie for him. Meanwhile the baby, who is still in the stroller, starts fussing, so, after giving a cookie to the first child, the woman turns her attention to the third. That’s when the second child starts hitting the first one with the cookie box, and the first one starts to cry. Even when the woman has succeeded, by some miracle, in getting all three children into their car seats, she is not finished yet. She still has to put the shopping bags in the car, collapse the stroller, lift it into the back, and get herself into the car, too. And when she gets home, she has got to reverse the whole process. Now that is sanctity!

It is also tremendous patience—and patience is yet another gift of the Holy Spirit. The word patience is derived from the Latin verb passio, meaning “to bear or endure.” Patient people are those who can bear trials and pains with calmness and equanimity. They are able to put up with delays, wait for the right moment, and bide their time.

Patient people are more flexible with time than impatient people. Impatient people exist in only one time frame—their own. They are comfortable with only one schedule—theirs. They want things done when they want things done. And they expect the rest of the world to adapt to their schedule. If they want their child to be potty trained by twenty-four months and he is not by twenty-six, they get angry. If they have to stand in line at the store while an elderly lady ahead of them carries on a brief conversation with the cashier, they get upset because that lady is disrupting their schedule.

Patient people, on the other hand, can flow back and forth between different time frames. They know, for example, that potty training a child may necessitate entering a time frame other than their own. Waiting in line for a few extra moments while an elderly lady chats with a cashier invites patient people to momentarily set aside their own schedule. They enter with compassion the schedule of another, someone who is lonely and who may have more time than she knows what to do with.

Recently I did some creative imaging and took a walk with Patience. When I asked her, “What can I do to become more like you?” she thought for a moment, smiled warmly, and said, “Plant an acorn. . . .Befriend a turtle. . . . Teach a child.”

How patient am I? Am I able to step out of my own time frame and enter with compassion the time frame of someone else? God of infinite patience, let me walk with you today.

—Excerpted from Gracious Goodness by Melannie Svoboda, SND

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