As many of you know, we recently moved. Moving is hard work, and unpacking is only the beginning. After all of your belongings are unpacked, you must begin the arduous process of making the home your own. Finding a place for everything, painting, hanging pictures, arranging furniture, fixing and perhaps even building. It can take a very long time.
The problem is, I tend towards impatience. If it were up to me, unpacking and settling in would take a week at the most. I find myself irritated when I have to put projects off because they depend on finishing another project first. The unfinished feeling makes me uncomfortable. I wish I could snap my fingers and have everything done instantaneously.
But it simply doesn’t work that way. It takes time to grow into a home, and no amount of wishful thinking can change that.
The Long Road
We can often display the same impatience in the spiritual life. We want to snap our fingers and become saints. When we fall again and again or don’t see the fruits of our prayers and confessions and communions, we grow weary and discouraged. We are tempted to think that maybe the sacraments don’t really “work” and we will never advance.
In a sense, this despondency is understandable. We moderns (especially us men) are practical and results-oriented. We want to see a return on our investment, and that sooner rather than later. And yet, this results-oriented thinking can become very unholy. It belies a lack of trust in God, and a distorted vision of what holiness actually looks like.
The fact is, growth in maturity, spiritual or otherwise, takes time. The Redwoods of California didn’t spring to their gigantic proportions overnight. They started as a small and fragile sapling, weak and easily swayed. Many years passed before they could be considered strong and tall.
Patience and Perfection
Occasionally, we hear stories of a saint who experienced an instant conversion, a Damascus-road moment, if you will. But for most of them, this was not the norm. The majority of saints became saints only after years, perhaps even decades, of struggle and toil. They prayed, they battled their passions, they fasted, and they fell again and again. But most of all, they never gave up.
Patience endurance is what made the saints what they were, and all their exalted heights of holiness would not have been possible if they had grown fainthearted and quit. They faced dangers and trials and failures because they were confident in God alone, not themselves. When they looked at their souls and saw only weakness and misery, they didn’t despair and throw in the towel. They threw themselves with even greater hope upon the mercy and strength of almighty God.
Don’t Lose Heart
Perhaps you look at yourself and are tempted to give up. Maybe you’ve been battling the same sins for most of your life, and you think you’ll never beat them. You see no progress, no growth in virtue. Just failure. And the devil whispers the insidious lie in your ear, “You? A saint? Never!” Self-loathing sets in, and you are tempted to think that maybe this struggle isn’t really worth it.
Reject those lies. Like the maturity of a mighty tree, growth in holiness is often imperceptible. Why? Because God wants to keep us humble. If we were able to reform ourselves with a simple decision or resolution, we would be confident in ourselves rather than in him. And, like an impetuous child, we would grow ever more impatient for instant results. It would be an illusion and our undoing.
Take heart in the fact that, if you are struggling, God is at work in your soul, even though you may not see it. He will bring you to perfection and maturity in his time, not yours. Remember that patient endurance is itself a virtue that our heavenly Father wants to work in our soul. Do not grow tired, do not despair, but be confident in God, remembering the words of St. Paul, “Let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”