What a precious thing is patience. And so beautiful.
A visitor from interstate recently remarked that drivers in Sydney are so impatient. Everyone is in such a hurry to get to where they’re going that they seem to care only for themselves and not for anyone else on the road. What a sad way to live one’s life.
Yet patience seems so hard to find these days. We all have so much to do and so little time in which to do it. We all want to see results, to get things done, to get somewhere… the clichés abound. And we have become so used to getting what we want right away that when we don’t, we feel as if one of our basic rights has been unfairly taken from us.
I doubt this is the way of life our Creator intended for us. “In your patience possess ye your souls” said our Lord. And as a general rule, whenever we disobey the Maker’s instructions, things go wrong. In the last of his science fiction trilogy, That Hideous Strength, CS Lewis quotes from his bottomless pit of archaic proverbs:
“Fool! All lies in a passion of patience – my Lord’s rule.”
Only he can make something as dull and difficult as being patient sound so exciting! And yet, perhaps he is right. Perhaps patience can indeed be an exciting adventure, a thrilling challenge, a life-consuming delight. I once met such patience…
It was late at night, around eleven o’clock, when I was preparing to go home after giving a talk at a youth meeting at another parish. A lady with gentle manners approached me and asked if I would mind doing her a favour, since she was unable to locate the local parish priests. Would I mind coming to pray for an invalid who was about to pass away.
You cannot refuse these requests, so I followed the lady, a doctor as it turned out, to the home of her patient not far from the Church. I entered a dimly lit house where the atmosphere was overwhelmingly one of silence and peace. We threaded our way through to a bedroom dominated by a large hospital bed. Only secondarily did notice the small, quiet figure of a woman standing on the other side of the bed.
“O thank you so much for coming Dr X,” she said. Introductions were quickly made and I was graced with a wide smile from a wide open heart. “I really appreciate your coming out at this late hour. My daughter won’t be with us too much longer, and I would feel so much better if someone could pray for her before she departs.” I mumbled a few words of feeble encouragement and we prayed for the patient lying unconscious in the bed. I anointed her with some Holy Oil, and then we just stood around the bed for a little while. The mother told us of how precious her daughter was to her, how she was her whole life. She wondered how she would survive without her.
“But I know that she was a precious gift from God to me. How can I complain when God wants to take her back? She belongs with Him, not me.” She must have seen the expression of sorrow on my face, for she turned to comfort me. “We mustn’t be sad,” she said with that smile again, although there was a glint of moisture in the corner of one eye. “My daughter was a real blessing. She made my life worthwhile. But she really doesn’t belong in this world. Forty three years is long enough, and I can’t complain. Every day with her has been a precious treasure for me. But the time has come to let her go.”
Once again I was in my common though uncomfortable role of feeling totally inept as a minister. The patient was healing the doctor, the suffering was comforting the comforter. Oh, well – I’m used to it by now.
Outside, the doctor described to me how this lady had given birth to her severely disabled daughter over forty years ago, and had patiently devoted her life to serving her. It had cost her her career, her marriage and her social life. Yet in all the years the doctor had known her, she had never heard one word of complaint issue from her lips. Even now, as she was losing the daughter around whom her whole life revolved, she bore it patiently, acceptingly, submitting herself to the will of God. And in her patience she found a profound peace.
Yes, patience can be beautiful.