September 2007 - Volume 12, Issue 2

While You Are Waiting, Be Patient

By Rev. Msgr. Frank Wissel

Photo of the gears inside a clockOne of the hardest things in life to do is wait. If you are accepting something bad, you wish it would hurry up and happen, so you could be done with it. If you are expecting something good, you wish it would hurry up and happen so you can enjoy it.

A good example of the latter is a small child anxiously awaiting Christmas. To his/her eager and impatient mind, it seems that every hour is a day and every day is a week. Even if Christmas is two weeks away a child will always ask, "How many more days until it's Christmas?"

Those of us who are older are pleasantly amused by the impatience of the young, but we know they do not hold exclusive title to this trait of character. None of us like to wait. Our adult impatience can be considerably less amusing than the eagerness of children.

I have seen broken homes, broken hearts, broken spirits and even broken bodies that were by-products of adult impatience. We must learn to wait whether we like it or not. Life, to a certain extent, unfolds at its own pace and some things simply cannot be hurried.

In a reading from the letter of St. James, we find this very pointed and practical advice: "Be patient, my brothers, until the coming of the Lord."

Then he uses the parable of the farmer as an example of what he means. Farming is a combination of working and waiting. It takes both to make a crop. A farmer who did nothing but wait would not be patient, he would be lazy. He would also be a miserable failure. The ground has to be plowed, the seeds must be planted and the weeds must be pulled.

But once the farmer has done these things, then he must let nature take over. He waits for the rain to fall, for the sun to shine, for the seed to germinate, a plant to grow and the fruit to ripen. Then he goes to work again and gathers the crop.

Working and waiting is what life is all about. Some things we work for and some things we wait for. To know and practice the difference is where patience comes in. In dealing with ourselves, the temptation is twofold. One is to be overly indulgent. The other is to be terribly impatient. Both are self-defeating.

The person who indulges oneself and never seeks to correct one's mistakes or strengthen one's weakness is like a farmer who never works. Life will be choked with weeds and will never produce a harvest of Christian character.

On the other hand, the person who is impatient with oneself is like the farmer who plants a seed today and expects a crop tomorrow. Life doesn't work that way on the farm or in the human heart. Becoming a whole and healthy person requires working and waiting. Strength and character does not happen overnight.

Our Lord spent approximately 30 years in Nazareth and in the carpenter's shop before he became all that he was and went out to do all that he did. That took patience.

We should also apply this same principle to other people. St. James continues by saying, "Do not grumble against one another, my brothers, lest you be condemned."

Have you ever noticed that we tend to treat people the way we feel about ourselves? The person who is angry with himself will frequently take it out on his wife. The mother who is unhappy with her own life will sometimes be overly indulgent and therefore sometimes overly impatient with her children. So we start by applying the principle of patience to ourselves and move from there to apply it to those around it.

A great Christian leader once said, "Be kind to all people, because everyone you meet is having a tough time." My own personal philosophy that I always taught all of my students is, "Work hard and be nice!"

That's good advice, and we need to remind ourselves of it several times a day. The temptation is to become so absorbed in our own problems that we forget other people have problems, too, and when that happens we become so impatient that no one can live with us.

Jesus says, "Steady your hearts." That means get hold of yourself. Sure, you have problems; everyone does. So be patient with yourself, be patient with those around you.