By Barb Arland-Fye
During a long-ago interview for a column called “Faces in Faith,” I asked the interviewee, “What do you pray for?” Her response surprised me: “I’ll tell you what I don’t pray for; I never pray for patience, because God will test it.”
At the time I had been praying daily for patience with my young son with autism, but in my mind the prayer went unanswered. After the interview I stopped praying for patience, hoping that God would stop testing me!
The testing continues, even without the prayer. An incident that happened this Advent season — and words of wisdom from my husband after I expressed frustration — provided fresh perspective about patience, a recurrent theme in Scriptures of this season.
Our adult son Colin had an outburst following an outing with his peers, responding to stress in the same way as usual, even though we had gone over behavior rules with him the week before. The incident resulted in an email to me explaining what had happened and the consequences that would follow. “Will it always be like this?” I asked my husband, Steve. “Will things ever improve?” He said, “We have to take it one day at a time.”
I have never been willing to take it one day at a time, but Steve’s response finally registered with me. The definition of patience is “the ability to accept delay, trouble, or suffering without becoming angry or upset” (Pocket Oxford American Dictionary, Second Edition). I presume that enduring delay, trouble, or suffering will be rewarded, but the definition doesn’t guarantee a positive outcome.
Our Advent readings state or imply the need for patience, but clearly emphasize a sense of hope. “You, too, must be patient. Steady your hearts, because the coming of the Lord is at hand,” James tells us. “As your models in suffering hardships and in patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke the name of the Lord. Those who have endured we call blessed. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and have seen what the Lord, who is compassionate and merciful, did in the end” (James 5:7-11).
Patience seems more doable during Advent because we’re anticipating something wondrous: the incarnation of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace, Emmanuel. “The Lord is near. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds. Present your needs to God in every form of prayer and in petitions full of gratitude,” Paul says in his letter to the Philippians. “Then God’s own peace, which is beyond all understanding, will stand guard over your hearts and minds, in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of patience in prayer, rather than praying about patience. The example comes from the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). The widow prays without ceasing and with the patience of faith. She persists in pursuing a just decision from a dishonest judge.
So I don’t need to pray for patience. God is already working on that still-developing fruit of the Holy Spirit in me. I need to remain persistent in prayer and to know that sometimes prayers are answered in unexpected ways, like the wisdom of my husband or Colin’s eagerness to give and receive forgiveness. That is my journey with patience this Advent season.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)