Through the spiritual genius of Jeremiah the prophet, God is represented as saying to his people and, therefore, to me, “I am patient with you” (3.14 GNB).
I thank God for those five words. I know that I endlessly frustrate the God who loves me to death. I also live with another Divine Saying that explodes with the words, “How long do I have to put up with you?”
The relationship between God and me is like that of a loving father and his wayward child. God, through Jeremiah, calls his people back to him: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.” In spite of the rebelliousness of the Israelites, God never gives up on them, me or any human being.
God endlessly expresses a burning desire and longing “for us and for our salvation” (Nicene Creed).
I have a personal way of testing Old Testament Sayings. Am I able to imagine those words of patience coming from the lips of Jesus? In my experience authentic Divine Sayings inevitably speak from him, as well as from the heart of the Cross: “Come back to me, for I am patient with you.”
I am convinced that the power of such language needs to be received in deep silence, kept in mind and taken to heart. Then, like the well-known Parable of the Sower, the “seed” of this language will germinate, root, burst into flower and bear abundant fruit.
The spirit of “I am patient with you” can profoundly affect and govern all attitudes and relationships.
This wise spiritual discipline can transform those who know themselves to be impatient.
In spite of all the work God has done in and for me, I continue to resist God.
Because of my own past history, I suffer from a muddled mind, hard heart and weak will. The holiest of saints never saw themselves as perfect. They may display a high level of Christian love, joy, peace and patience but the spiritual bearing of fruit is never easy. Christians are obliged to work at it so that they become more patient in the way they relate to family, friends, and people throughout the world.
Patient endurance involves suffering.
A truly patient Christian is able to wait without becoming annoyed or anxious.
The whole notion of “waiting patiently” is vital to Christian discipline. Like a well-trained restaurant waiter, God “waits” on us, offering every human being a bountiful and nourishing “menu.”
God’s “customers” are free to accept and digest what is on offer; they are also free to ignore or reject it.
I have a spiritual director. I thank God for that man’s endless patience with me.
You, the reader, may also be fortunate to have truly patient people in your life. I think immediately of particular teachers, medical practitioners and home carers whose patience is often strongly tested.
But what about those people, including far too many Christians, who consider that patience is weakness; who act impatiently, intolerantly and even with crushing abuse and brutality, simply to achieve their own ends or to satisfy their selfish cravings?
What about people who mindlessly strive to destroy the Christian faith?
That is why patient prayer for oneself and others is “the greatest work of love of which human beings are capable.”
Saint Julian of Norwich spoke of being “enfolded in love.” Authentic Christian prayer for others becomes a sharing in the endlessly patient, enfolding love and compassion of God. “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace [and] patience.”
Next month’s column will explore the spirit of kindness.