March 7, 2010
Luke 13: 1 – 9
Last Monday evening we celebrated the sacrament of Penance for the first time with the children of our parish who are preparing for Confirmation and First Communion. The children were ready. They were a little nervous but they came forward and confessed their sins as they saw them. It was an effective celebration, especially since many of the parents of the children also chose to receive the sacrament of penance. Many of them had not done so in a while. What struck me hearing the parents’ confession was that almost all the parents confessed the same sin. Now I am not going to tell you what any individual confessed. But I can tell you that the vast majority of parents confessed the sin of impatience. They confessed that they were impatient with their children, with their spouse, with their parents and that impatience often led to anger which led to words that should not have been said. Those words led to regret. They confessed their genuine sorrow over being the people they did not want to be.
So all this week I have been thinking about patience. And today’s Gospel provides a wonderful connection to that virtue. Because in the Gospel we see that God is patient. In the parable the gardener represents God. Even though the fig tree is not producing fruit, the gardener does not give up. The gardener patiently provides another chance, digging around the root, fertilizing the plant, hoping that next year it will become productive.
God is always patient with us. It is perhaps for that reason that it is so disturbing to us when we are impatient. So what can we say, what can we do to become more patient people? I’m going to offer you one comment and one practical suggestion. The comment is this: I believe that impatience is connected to love. We are often most impatient with the people we love, with the people who are closest to us. I think we are impatient because we love them. When strangers annoy us, we walk away. We do not stay. We write them off and move on. But when people who are close to us annoy us, we become impatient. We become impatient because we want them to be different. We want to love them more easily. We want them to make better decisions. When they do not make those decisions or act in those ways, we become impatient. But do not kid yourself. We become impatient not because we are mean or because we do not care. We become impatient precisely because we do care, because we do in fact love the people around us.
So impatience is connected to love. How then can we be more patient? Here’s my practical suggestion. Take a step back. When you see that you are becoming impatient, stop yourself and take a look around. Often times we are so impatient because we want one thing, we want a specific thing to happen. “How often have I told you to pick up your socks?” “Why can’t you take out the garbage without me telling you?” “Why is it when we argue, you can never admit that you are wrong and say that you are sorry?” We want something very specific and when the people in our lives do not correspond to our wishes, we become impatient. If we could take a step back we might be able to place the things that we think are so important into the bigger picture. And when we place them into a larger context, they might not seem so important. Will we be thinking about our son’s socks on his wedding day? Will we still be fuming about our wife’s refusal to admit she’s that sorry as we wait for the outcome of her heart operation? You see, if you we can place these specific things that we want into the bigger picture, what we find in the bigger picture is love. Love reminds us what people are really worth to us. In that larger picture it is easier to be patient.
And nothing helps us to step back more effectively than laughter. See if you can find something humorous in a situation where you are on the verge of being impatient. Is there anything comical about the fact that I am about to become a mad woman because someone left up the toilet seat? Is there anything laughable about the situation that I am about to double my blood pressure because my daughter has again not done her homework? If we can see how ridiculous we can be, if we can recognize the excessive seriousness that we give to small matters, then we can take a step back, we can see the love, we can see what is important. Then it is easier to be patient.
So that’s my comment and my practical suggestion. Have I now provided you with foolproof way to avoid impatience forever? Hardly. But here is the good news. God is always patient. Even when we are not, even when we get stuck on specific details and lose it, God is still patient with us. If we can remember that, if we can remember how patient God is with us, then maybe we can find the way to be patient with ourselves.