Spirituality for Today – March 2012 – Volume 16, Issue 8

The Virtue of Patience: Tending to Our Garden of Faith

By Rev. Msgr. Frank Wissel

A science class at Greenwich Catholic School was conducting an experiment. They were going to try to grow some flowers. Each student was given a cup of soil and a few seeds. They planted the seeds, applied the right amount of water, and then set the cup where it would get plenty of light.

A photo of spring flowers

After that, there was not much they could do except wait. That was the hardest part. Every few days, they would add a little water; just enough to keep the soil moist. Of course, every day they would check to see if any new sprouts had appeared through the soil.

One little boy was especially impatient. After three days, he decided that something was wrong. Someone had played a trick on him and stolen his seeds. Or maybe he just forgot to put them in. So, he dug them up to see if they were still there. He found them in the same condition they had been in three days earlier. Obviously, they were not getting enough water. So, he started watering every day.

His cup of soil quickly turned to mud. The next day, he dug up the seeds to see how they were. They were rotted. And the whole project was a lost cause.

Other students were more patient. They waited. It was not easy, but they waited. One day, they spotted a sprout. The next day, it was larger. Eventually, tiny buds appeared. At last, there were flowers. The teacher said, "You just can't rush Mother Nature."

Similarly, Jesus said, "You just can't rush God." In his day, there were many people who tried. The Zealots thought that they had the answer. God's kingdom would come when God's friends helped Him defeat His enemies. They wanted Jesus to form a fighting force and drive the Romans into the sea. The Pharisees thought the answer was piety. If they would just keep the law to perfection, the Kingdom of God would appear.

The general population was of a different mind. Some of them had given up on this kingdom business. If God were going to do anything, he would have done it by now.

The message of Jesus to all these people was: Be patient. God works in the world like a seed grows in the ground. It is a mystery, pure and simple. Who could explain that little spark of life, which enables a seed to become a plant? Apparently, Jesus could not. At least, he did not. His only comment on the subject was, "The seed sprouts and grows without the farmers knowing how." And still we don't know how. It is a mystery of nature. So it is with God's working in the world. It is a mystery of grace; God does His work among us in His own pace and in His own way.

You and I need to learn to keep a certain distance from that. The men in Jesus' story scattered seed on the ground. Then, he backed off for the time being his work was done. He had prepared the field and planted the seed. What else could he do? I supposed he could have over-watered the field. Or he could have dug out the seeds to see if they were sprouting, but that would have done far more harm than good.

It was better that he just did his part and then left the rest up to Mother Nature. Jesus said of the man, "He goes to bed and gets up day after day." That was one of the most sensible things he could have done. He did not over-involve himself in the growth process.

Parents might be wise to try that at home. There is a story about a mother and father worrying themselves sick over their college daughter. She was dating a good-for-nothing guy. Wedding bells were starting to ring. They had talked themselves blue in the face, all to no avail.

One weekend, they changed their approach. They invited the boy to come for a visit. They treated him like a king. They gave the couple their blessing. The romance ended before the school year. All their daughter needed was the freedom to make her own decisions. She was going to marry the guy just to prove that she could.

Raising children is a tricky business. If you want them to grow, you have to give them room. That can be scary. Little Johnny wants to put on his own shoes. Of course, he puts them on the wrong feet, and ties the strings in knots. But that is all right. He is learning. He is growing.

Little Susie wants to pick out her own clothes, what she will wear to school that day. Her choice is an orange blouse and a pink skirt, with yellow socks. Her clothes don't match, but that is all right.

Failure often precedes success. Growth is a mystery; we cannot create it. But we can help by giving it enough room to happen. We need to keep a certain distance between ourselves and God's work. We can plant the seed, but only He can give the harvest.

I heard of a young priest who was concerned for his parish. Attendance was down. Giving was down. And he was praying about it. But there was a kind of desperation about his prayer. Then, in a moment of silence, he thought he heard God say, "My friend, this church was here a hundred years before you were born. And it will be here a hundred years after you are gone. This is not your church. It is my church. Now relax and enjoy your work.

This same message applies to our jobs, our families, or anything else that is going on in our lives. There is no need to be wringing our hands in desperation. This is God's field. Do your part. Plant the seed. Then maintain an attitude of expectant faith. God can be trusted to produce the harvest.