Monday, January 20, 2014

Developing an appreciation for waiting

Patience, as many of us know, is a virtue.  “Good things are worth waiting for” is an adage that some of us have been told over and over again from our youngest days.  If we just pause to think about it, most of the good things in life do require some form of patience from us.  A good fruit from a tree doesn’t come overnight after planting its seed in the ground.  Great tasting food often comes after long hours of preparation and sometimes a long slow cooking process.  I’m not sure if Rome at certain junctures of its colourful history can be considered as a “good thing”, but even Rome was not built in a day.  But the hard truth is that many of us struggle with the development and practice of patience. 

One of the needful benefits of a developed spiritual life is indeed the ability to appreciate the slow unfolding of life.  Contemplation forces us to appreciate how to slow not just our lives down, but also to slowly re-look at so many ordinary things in extraordinary ways.  It helps one to enter into the realm of God’s speed, which is far from speedy as many of us will be able to attest. 

How many times have we found ourselves lamenting that God often takes such a circuitous route to answer our prayers?  And he is also often blamed for taking his own divine time to respond to our needs.  An article I came across on the Catholic Exchange website by writer Gary Zimak shared this view, but interestingly, also gave several sound and spiritual reasons why God takes his time to answer prayers.  The ‘reasons’ as he lists them can guide us to hone this skill of waiting for God to ‘work’.

But it is when we are ‘forced’ into a corner to wait patiently that we have little choice but to become patient and less anxious.  At the heart of impatience, I have come to see, is a certain fear.  A fear that we are not taken seriously by God, and that our concerns and difficulties and sufferings are not considered as important by a God who has called us his beloved.  But if we only focus on our needs in our prayer, and not on the relationship that God wants to build and develop with us, we will find ourselves stuck in a rut that sees us looking only at our needs, our wants and our demands rather than our relationship with God who knows each of our needs and wants.  Whether he wants to answer our needs in the way we want them is another matter altogether. 

One of the reasons that God makes us wait, as Zimak writes, is because we may not be spiritual ready to receive what we have asked for until a much later time.  I can fully understand this as I see it happening in my own experience with living with leukemia and this long journey I am given to live out. 

When patients like me come down with an infection like pneumonia, one of the aveunes for treatment is the administration of steroids.  Powerful drugs, when taken steadily and in large doses, it causes our adrenal glands to ‘shut down’ or to go to sleep.  Our bodies naturally produce steroids in the adrenal gland, and when it detects that there is a supply of steroids that the body is taking, it stops doing what it is supposed to do. 

Oral steroids have all sorts of side-effects even though they may help the patient to recover from an infection.  Just try googling “prednisolone” and its side effects.  The list of what a patient can experience whilst on this drug is rather startling – from anxiety, to irritability, visual impairment to sudden weight gain.  I have been on this medication to deal with my encounter with idiopathic pneumonia several months back, and am very tired with living with water retained feet and a swollen face.  I have asked the doctor to take me off the steroids as I have no more pneumonia symptoms, but her answer revealed something which I never knew.  She told me that the dosage of steroids cannot be suddenly cut to zero overnight as the body can go into prednisolone withdrawal – also known as cortisol deficiency.  This can lead to a whole lot of other problems like severe fatigue and low blood pressure.  The only way one can take steroids away from one’s daily dosage of medication is a little at a time, like bringing it down 5mg per week, till one reaches the point where one’s adrenal glands “wake up” and start its natural production of cortisol. 

The long and short of it is that the body is not able to handle the effect of cutting down the steroid intake with any immediacy.  I brought this to the spiritual life, and saw great similarities.  No one becomes a saint overnight.  Some of wish we could, but that would simply not be possible.  What is a saint but a person who has responded, little by little, to the generous outpouring of love and grace from God.  A baptism may take place in a couple of minutes, but living out of our sonship in Christ is a long, drawn-out affair called life.  There will be ‘hits and misses’ and we may find ourselves lamenting that it takes so long for us to become the Christ image that we are called to be.  We will not be able to handle spiritual growth with any degree of immediacy because of our weak human nature, just as our bodies will react badly if we cut off the steroid supply suddenly. 

Perhaps what we may fail to appreciate is the fact that God is willing to be patient with our conversion.  His love is so complete that he does not see the need to force anything on us without our wanting to do it ourselves.  Yet, he is not absent from our struggles, and accompanies us in our pain and sufferings.  What is happening is often a purification of our hearts and of our motives.  One of the most endearing images that we are given of this purification is found in Ps. 66:10, where we are told that God will refine us as silver is refined and purify us as gold is purified.  I came to understand that the purification of precious metals in ancient times required the great patience of the one who was doing the purification.  The process required the one working with the metal to sit very close to the flame and while holding a crucible containing the precious metal with its impurities, wait for the all of the dross to burn away leaving behind the purified molten.  But the only way this could be ascertained was when the purifier could see his own reflection on the surface of the now shiny liquefied metal.  The staring at this heated molten often caused a lot of discomfort and even pain to the metal worker.

What we should appreciate are the finer points in this scriptural analogy where we are, as it were, held in a crucible by God over the purification flames.  He holds us and wants to help all the dross and impurities of our lives to burn away, but by the fire of his love.  And he will only stop when he finally sees his own image when he sees us.  Does this purification ‘hurt’ God’s eyes?  In a way, it does, even though God is not mutable.  Yet he does not give up on us, and suffers with us.

No, God is in no hurry, but we are, and often for the wrong things.  There is a Latin saying “festina lente” which translates to “hurry slowly”.  Oxymoronic, it is actually a good reminder to all of us to hurry for the right things, but in a slow way.  


  1. Good post, Fr. Luke. Surely patience is not one of my strong points - I can be terribly impatient with others. Patience with God? I think perhaps that is directly proportional to the amount of trust we have in Him. Like a small child riding in the back seat of a car, on a long, overland journey that seems never to end: but all the time knowing that "we're gonna get there" because daddy's at the wheel.

    I like the the ninth and tenth paragraph; the one about God holding us in a crucible over the flames of His love. I find it especially meaningful and insightful. Makes me wonder, if some of us have a higher "melting temperature" than others. Ha ha.
    God bless,

  2. Dear Fr Luke,
    Can't imagine you with water-retained legs and swollen face but I suppose that will subside in time with proper prescription from specialised doctors. That is also a waiting in patience to be able to hear your homilies and see how you articulate your points so well...Ever consider doing a podcast - that will be great, don't you think?

    I do listen to Laudate podcast for daily readings and reflections of Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. You should consider with your clear enunciation of words, the listeners would be able to concentrate and reflect on how it touch their own lives.

    God bless...with peace & love always, Mat.

  3. Dearest Fr. Luke,

    I have been reflecting on this week’s post with a self-directed scrutiny, what hit me most is your introduction of the Latin saying “festina lente”; to hurry for the right things in a slow way… it had been yet another jolt of reminder.

    Just in the course of this week, a good friend commented that she finds me impulsive, and I was surprised because this is the first time anyone use this adjective on me. Maybe indeed its self-preservation that makes me blind to my flaws, as many a times, I had thought this impulsiveness for “fervour”, as I see time as limited and fickle and yet so much yet to be done.

    Allow me to infer from the Latin saying that hurrying, even when it’s for a good cause need to be carried out in a correct way, God’s way. Often, we judge ourselves by our intentions, but others judge us by our actions, and if our actions are rushed, impatient or impulsive, no matter how good the intentions, it often may not bring about our desired outcome and sometimes backfires instead.

    Upon self-reflection, I concur with you that anxiety, impatience, impulsiveness are usually propelled by self-will of needs and wants and not on our relationship with God. How easy it is to be side-tracked and lose ourselves in the storm. Thank God for His patience with us… may He grant us the grace to be patient with Him in refining us. (Song to share - for those times when we are discouraged in the Godly furnace ;} )

    A new acronym I picked up from an enlightened and humorous Canossian nun – W.A.I.T stands for “Why Am I Tempted.” – Yet another jolting reminder for self-reflection whenever I find myself irritable or anxious, and yes, impulsive. ;}

    Thank You Fr.Luke, for yet another God-inspired reflection.
    Praying for you as always.


  4. Peace be with you Fr Luke, I happen to be reading Fr Denis McBride’s “Waiting on God” when I saw your encouraging & thought-provoking post. He characterised Jesus’ 'passion' as a transition from ‘doing’ to ‘receiving the judgments & deeds of men’, from being a ‘subject’ to an ‘object’, from ‘working’ to ‘waiting’. Apart from the fear of being ‘forgotten’ or ‘overlooked’ by God, this could be another reason why waiting is difficult. According to Fr Denis, a ‘patient’ (a word that comes, via Latin, from the same Greek root as ‘passion’) often needs to navigate from being an active subject to an object of others’ attention, care & advice.

    This transition, for a patient or otherwise, is never easy. It happens very often, in various guises & sizes, this loss of autonomy or control. I think it takes a profound centredness in Christ to traverse this transition with grace & poise. To be able to do so means that one is able to steps down from the throne of the ego & submit oneself to a new centre - Christ, to whom control is not an virtue, but surrender. Where the "I" (ego) is crossed out with a horizontal dash, it becomes a 't" (a cross).

    When put in a situation where waiting & uncertainty is imposed on us, there is a temptation to take things into our hands when nothing seems to be moving for oneself & the world seems to be passing one by. Faced with this situation, even Abraham, our father of faith, capitulated. He was given explicit promises by God a few times but when he (instigated by Sarah) couldn’t stand the waiting anymore, he executed plan B. One may sometimes be tempted to find a ‘Hagar’ & beget an ‘Ishmael’. Desist! Festina lente is my new mantra...

    Someone once said that contemplative waiting is consenting to be where we really are. A fiat of being. To be present to myself in all circumstances. To dwell in the present in the presence of Christ. Perhaps that’s how I may honor & give thanks to the Father who loves me & re-creates me anew every moment. The Carthusians express it succinctly: their motto is “the cross stands while the world turns” (stat crux, dum volvitur orbis). We're not the only ones waiting. Christ is also waiting for us in the Blessed Sacrament, the stillpoint in the eye of the storm.

    an anthonian