According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the word “patient” is derived from the Latin word “to suffer.” That makes sense when you think about the use of “patient” as a noun—someone, presumably suffering, who is seeking medical care. Thinking about the use of “patient” as an adjective makes it a little more confusing, however. As a preschool teacher, I probably tell my students at least a hundred times a day that they just need to “be a little patient.” That means that I’m asking them at least a hundred times a day to suffer a little bit and to trust me to follow through. But how often, when God requires me to be patient, to suffer just a little bit, do I refuse to trust him? How often do I try to do things on my own, only to end up worse off than I started?
I’m not very good at asking for help. Actually, you’ll have to put up a fight if you want to carry my bag for me. Admitting that I need help just makes me feel too vulnerable—I don’t like other people to think of me as incapable, and I certainly don’t want to inconvenience anyone else. I’m not exactly sure where that comes from. Maybe it’s because I’ve never had other siblings to divvy up responsibilities. Or maybe it’s from traveling on my own—if I can’t carry it, I can’t bring it. Whatever the cause may be, I’ve learned to be a fiercely independent person. This independence usually pays off in the academic or organizational aspects of my life, but I’m beginning to realize that it is quite possibly sabotaging my relationships with other people and that it is most definitely sabotaging my relationship with God.
We live in a world where we’re taught that “if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.” We learn not to trust others to help us out or to have our backs. So how do we reconcile this need for self-efficacy with the Orthodox notion that “we can do all things [only] through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil. 4:13)? Clearly, we can’t just sit on our couches, do nothing, and expect God to just make things happen magically—we have to put in the effort too. That’s not difficult when things work out how you anticipated. It’s more challenging to keep trying, however, when we feel like the “payout” isn’t what we think we deserve. To be honest, as sinful as we are, we probably don’t really ever “deserve” the bounty of blessings that we receive. So when things don’t turn out the way we expect, it must be God’s way of telling us something.
I know that I have been blessed in so many ways: I have a loving and supportive family, a network of amazing friends, overall good health, a job I love and an amazing Church to rely on. I know that I’ve worked hard to achieve many of those things, but recognize that, without God’s hand in them, my life would be completely different. I know that, through God’s grace, I can handle changes in any of those areas, even if they’re difficult or unexpected. But when it comes to romantic relationships, it’s not so easy to just know that it will all work out. It’s been a while since I’ve been in a relationship, and it seems that the longer I’m single, the harder it becomes for me to trust guys, and, the scarier part: the harder it becomes for me to trust God. I feel like I’m (physically, at least) exactly where I’m meant to be, and that I meet many amazing, eligible men. But it never seems to pan out how I anticipate that it “should.” The biggest catch: if I can’t completely trust God to take care of me in the way that I need, how am I ever going to be able to trust someone else enough to marry them? My mom always tells me that I put too much into friendships and relationships with people who don’t give enough back. Clearly, those relationships are unhealthy—you’re supposed to give and receive equally (even if it’s in different ways). My lack of faith in other people makes it harder to recognize the beauty of our relationship with God: you always get out more than you put in. This distrust is the seed of sickness in my soul, and, man! I could use some healing.
I’m growing to realize that I can’t have a good relationship with anyone else unless I also (first?) have a good relationship with God. So, how am I supposed to better develop my personal relationship with Him? According to my friend Jon (an amazing youth director), you build your personal relationship with God the same way you build relationships with other people: one step at a time. When it starts out, you ask and answer lots of questions about each others’ interests and backgrounds. As you start to know each other better, you meet each others’ friends and families. Soon, you’re hanging out more often, you have pictures of each other to look at, maybe you’re even on a speed-dial basis with each other. After a while, you start to call to share joys and sorrows, or maybe just because. Slowly, your walls begin to break down and your trust begins to build up as you learn how to compromise and to relinquish some control. I know that it takes a series of many baby steps and a long period of time to develop really strong relationships with other people. As a nine-year old told me many years ago, “If you really want to love someone, you have to practice first.” Who better to practice with than God? As a Dominican Sister of Mary recently featured on “Oprah” (thanks, Mom) put it, “If something goes wrong in the relationship, I know that it’s me!”
I know that there’s no direct one-to-one correspondence when it comes to prayers to and answers from God. I definitely know that prayer works, even if we don’t get the answers we expected or hoped for. As we embark on our Lenten journey, I am simultaneously excited and relieved to have more ways to help me to focus on and develop my relationship with God. Knowing how awesome and enormous His love is for us, I’m willing to work on becoming more patient—to suffer a little bit. As a patient seeking care for my soul, I know that Christ, sent as the Heavenly Physician of our souls and bodies, will take good care of me. And I know it will be worth the wait.
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