As Catholics, we often hear things about being counter-cultural. We hear about a post-Christendom nation, about the need to be a missionary church. We hear about the culture of death and that we must be pro-life. We hear a lot about how we need to bring the faith to the culture, and that’s good. What we hear a lot less about is how things go the other direction, how the culture can and does shape our personal faith lives, for good or ill (yes, there’s both!). This series will examine how the culture in America is impacting faith and some of the virtues that we can focus on to strengthen us against negative influence and to take the positive influences to the next level.
Gratification, Convenience, and Patience
Our culture strives for immediate gratification and maximum convenience. Virtually everything in the modern era is subject to these two qualities. They’re in everything, from the more obvious things like streaming from anywhere on anything and content being released in massive chunks to allow binge watching, to the ever-shrinking delivery times and expanding inventory of things that can be delivered, to more subtle things like text notifications and scheduling for appointments. I’d be willing to bet that regardless of the industry you work in, at some point in the last 3 months you’ve had or overheard a conversation about how to make your product or service either faster or more convenient for your customers. It’s incessant.
Convenience and speed are not inherently evil. I don’t condemn society for seeking these things. In fact, there’s been a tremendous amount of good in a lot of areas on account of these things. I know people for whom modern innovations and increases in convenience in particular have been huge for accessibility. That’s a very good thing. I’m not even going to argue about whether society has fallen into excess in these areas and if or how that’s a problem. What I do want to do is take a look at how the cultural attitudes towards immediate gratification and convenience may be affecting our spiritual lives.
These two things, speed and convenience, while at least to some degree goods in the material world, are like sugar on teeth when it comes to spirituality. They eat away at our spiritual lives and our ability to develop a deep and meaningful relationship with God. Ultimately, speed and convenience can lead to a spirit of impatience within us. God is love (1 Jn 4:8) and love is patient (1 Cor 13:4). When we are impatient we become separated from God and who we, created in his image and likeness, are meant to be.
Spiritual impatience inhibits our ability to pray. When our prayer is curtailed we don’t have full and vivifying conversations with God. We may abandon prayer quickly if we encounter difficulty or don’t see God working on our timeline. Spiritual impatience can also harm our relationship with ourselves. We can impatient with our own growth and spiritual maturation. Often, we try to grasp at and force growth, or spiritual experiences.
Our desire for convenience and speed can close our hearts God, to his will. Knowing that, I still fall into all of those, at least some of the time. I’m not sure who doesn’t at least sometimes. With impatience so pervasive in the culture it can be something I slip into without even realizing it. The good news is, God knows this. He knows we can’t overcome these things on our own. That’s why he sent us the Holy Spirit. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit, and the virtue we can grow in to combat impatience, is patience.
Seems obvious, because it kind of is. However, I think we often have the wrong idea when it comes to patience. For a long time when I would think of patience, I would think of things like gritting my teeth, counting to ten before exploding, and trying to distract myself so time would seem to go faster (hello Christmas Eve). Even now as an adult I often unconsciously think of patience in a sort of white-knuckle way. As if it’s a test to see how long I can hold on.
As I’ve grown in my relationship with God, I’ve come to a deeper understanding of patience. Patience, at its heart, is about hope and trust. The question at the heart of patience isn’t “how long can I hold out,” it’s “do I trust?” Do I trust that, even though I am experiencing some kind of lack, some unfulfilled desire, God still loves me? Do I trust that he is still aware of me, sees me, and is working for my good? Do I have trust in God who doesn’t work on my schedule? Do I have hope in God loves me even if I still struggle with a particular sin, even when I feel like any “good” person would have conquered it by now?
I often don’t love my honest answers to these questions. And guess what? That gives me a perfect opportunity to practice patience with myself, and to invite the Holy Spirit into my life to cultivate the virtue of patience in me. There’s always a bit of hilarity when I’m upset at myself for not being more patient yet. That’s the best/worst thing about patience, there are ALWAYS opportunities to practice it. On that note, here are a few ways that you can grow in patience, and protect your spiritual life from the decay of impatience.
1) Pray. Hope is a theological virtue, which means that it is a gift from God. We can’ make ourselves grow in hope, but we can pray for it and we can ask God to help us open ourselves to receive it. We can read scripture and learn more about God, and come to trust in him and in his promises.
2) Avoid distraction. Often when waiting we distract ourselves. We have phones which are more designed for distraction than for making phone calls. If you catch yourself turning to distraction while waiting, take that moment to make a conscious turn towards God. Say a quick prayer, entrusting your well being to him, his work, and his time, and ask for the Holy Spirit to bear in you the fruit of patience.
3) Memorize a scripture passage or two that resonate with you about patience and hope and will remind you of God’s love for you when you catch yourself becoming impatient. A few of my favorites are Ps 27:13-14, Rom 5:3-5, and Is 40:31.
4) With patience in prayer, set a timer. Start with short spans if you need to, but make sure all your prayer includes some time to be silent and listen. It’s that silence that really helps develop patience and attunes us to God’s voice. As time passes, gradually increase the time you spend with him. Like building a muscle, you’ll find that you’ll grow in your ability to be still with God.
5) Make little pockets in your calendar of empty time. It’s easy to fill up every second, but forcing yourself to take a time out, and then just sitting through it, is a great way to develop patience. You’ll discover it also helps with other things like decreasing stress and fatigue. A moment to breath goes a long way on a number of fronts. Most importantly though, it can draw you closer to God.
All goods only remain good in moderation. And while convenience and rapid gratification are not inherently evil, we need to be on our guard that they aren’t eroding our relationship with God. The virtue of patience keeps us present to the Lord and his work in our lives. Come Holy Spirit, and bear in us the fruit of patience.