Why Patience is Essential in Ministry
I would not say that I am a patient person. Just ask my preschool-age son or any student who has ever been taught by me. They’ve all seen me lose my cool plenty of times!
Meanwhile my husband says I have “sangre de atole” – which can either be interpreted “one who lets people walk all over them” or my preference: “one who remains calm in difficult situations.”
Whether you consider yourself a naturally patient person or not, as a pastoral minister, it is one of the fundamental virtues for everything we do. This applies whether you are paid or volunteer, lay or ordained and carries over into all of our personal lives as well. But it entails more than just being able to remain calm.
Patience is named by St. Paul in Galatians 5:22-23 as one of the fruits we receive by allowing the Spirit to move in our lives. I recently participated in a webinar by Fr. Bill Byron, SJ on the Spirituality of Administration. He said, “The ‘Pauline Criteria’ must become the very infrastructure you carry into the world of work.” This is especially true in the area of pastoral care. Unfortunately so often we find the opposite. When we reject the Spirit and rely on ourselves we find: rivalry, jealousy, dissensions, factions, selfishness, envy. (Gal 5:19-21) Those sound familiar, don’t they?
Patience in the Christian sense includes receptivity to God’s will and acceptance of God’s timing. In today’s microwave culture, we have almost entirely lost this virtue. The other day I learned that when designing a website we need to plan on people’s attention span being 10-20 seconds long. If we haven’t caught people’s attention by then, they’re gone and off to the next thing. How true! And yet how sad that the same impatience spreads to our faith life and ministry.
In Evangelii Gaudium Pope Francis, speaking of pastoral workers who become burnt out, gives several reasons related to lack of patience:
“Without a spirituality which would permeate it and make it pleasurable… work becomes more tiring than necessary, even leading at times to illness. Far from a content and happy tiredness, this is a tense, burdensome, dissatisfying and, in the end, unbearable fatigue..Some fall into it because… they lack the patience to allow processes to mature; they want everything to fall from heaven…because they are unable to wait; they want to dominate the rhythm of life. Today’s obsession with immediate results makes it hard for pastoral workers to tolerate anything that smacks of disagreement, possible failure, criticism, the cross.” (#82)
I’ve seen this reality time and again in my own ministry and in many of my fellow ministers over the years. It is so easy to be overburdened by the demands of ministry. The weight of helping people carry such heavy burdens is too much. Our own strength is not enough. It takes patience to let God work in our own lives and the lives of those we touch.
I don’t know about you, but I want to see results. I don’t want to till or plant or weed or water. I want to harvest! But when I allow the Holy Spirit to work through me and he gives me a spirit of patience I am rewarded a hundred fold.
This weekend I succumbed to whatever bug was going around and Sunday morning it hit me like a ton of bricks. One of our Hispanic leaders took over the rest of my duties and I came home to rest. It led me to think of the patience needed to practice the art of listening that Pope Francis describes later in his first Apostolic Exhortation (#171). Our Hispanic community has flourished under the leadership of three men who may seem like the least likely candidates. To some they are a simple chicken catcher, a man who only went to school for one year and a recovering alcoholic. It was only through patiently listening I could see the hand of God in their lives. Only then I was able to create space for them in the ministry, allowing God to work in and through them. Our parish ministry has been so much more effective because of them.
Patience is not just the ability to remain calm in difficult situations. Patience is also being receptive and allowing God to work in our lives, in our ministry, and in those around us. This is something I am constantly reminded of as I struggle to be patient with myself in my quest to become a better leader, develop new skills and try to change bad habits. But as St. Paul explained, patience is a fruit of living our life in the Spirit. As Pope Francis describes, the solution is not less activity or more free time, it is a spirituality that permeates all of our work. As Fr. Bill said, “as we let God plant these fruits in our soul we will open up like a flower. It won’t happen all at once but rather slowly over time. Let them seep in like moisture.” Amen.
When has patience helped in your ministry?