Since moving back to New York City a few weeks ago, I have come to once again appreciate the fast pace of city life. In a city where buildings arise from the concrete and asphalt, an aerial observer must look with amazement at the waves of people that bustle during the morning and evening rush hours. Living in a place that values a fast waiter, on-time train operator, and the “close door” button on the elevator, it can sometimes be difficult to step back and exercise patience. In a culture that values speed, how do we reconcile such with a God that calls upon us to be patient?
Is it in a city that we are forced to admit our own impatience or does a city merely accentuate the impatient nature of humanity today? Consider for a moment how we become upset when the computer doesn’t respond immediately or when a text message takes forever to send; in essence, some may argue that technology is one of the greatest challenges to patience. These are merely secular examples of the lack of patience exercised in today’s world. In response to this, Blessed John Paul II offers us one of the most beautiful characterizations of the need for patience:
For a stalk to grow or a flower to open there must be time that cannot be forced; nine months must go by for the birth of a human child; to write a book or compose music often years must be dedicated to patient research. To find the mystery there must be patience, interior purification, silence, waiting.
As a human being, I cannot command a flower to bloom nor can I call forth a child from his/her mother’s womb; however, I can wait and accept the realities of the now in anticipation of the future. By accepting today and looking forward to tomorrow, we can live our lives in a way that exercises a deeper appreciation for serenity. St. Teresa of Avila explains that patience allows the disciple to “leave himself in God’s hands so that His will might be fulfilled in him” (The Way of Perfection, Ch. 9). Perhaps this understanding of the value of patience is what Reinhold Niebuhr sought to capture in his Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
With the Serenity Prayer in mind, we should approach the rush hours of our lives. We have to accept that we cannot change the traffic jam, the elevator that was not held open for us, or the subway train that stops running. Yet although there are things we cannot change, we can control how we exercise patience in these situations and our daily lives as we seek to do God’s will. By waiting patiently for Christ, we place our lives in His hands and choose to live patiently in the present moment.
As St. Thomas Aquinas has commented, patience may not be the greatest of virtues, but it surely is a means by which to bring life into focus. As we wait on the train platform, sit in a traffic jam, or face another great trial, let us reflect on the words of Psalm 37, “Be still before the LORD; wait for God.”