I am one of those folks who imparts myself with very high expectations. Day by day, I whip myself with a long rope of the things I didn’t complete, expectations unmet. As a sole parent, believe me this rope is very long. Every day I also try to think of the things I have accomplished. They may be small things, but without them my long rope of self-imposed disappointment would be too long, to binding to forget.
Today in one of my emails there was a prayer/reflection that I haven’t seen in a long time. At one point in my life, it was posted near the monitor on my desk and I read it daily. Today when I read it, it was like an old friend. It’s by Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.
It begins with
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
It always grabs me because, well, this is me. When I was little, I wanted to play piano, not learn to play piano, but PLAY it right away. As an adult, I found my work in a professional kitchen rewarding much because of the sense of immediate gratification I received while cooking and seeing the end product during the shift. Not much waiting around in the kitchen! Even now, I look around my house, see clutter and want it gone, but because I can’t get it all in one day, I become overwhelmed and do nothing. Needless to say, this impatience he speaks of is a definite behavior pattern I possess.
I do remember a time in my life when I was more patient. It was the time when this prayer was hanging on my desk. I was a youth minister. I was studying theology and was immersed in my ministry. I was married and had a new baby. I was a place in my life where I felt valued, loved and like I contributed to the welfare of our world. I worked in a place where we talked of the big stuff, like how to make the world better, how to make ourselves better and how God played a role in all of that. Now, it almost feels nostalgic speaking of it. I was surrounded by wise and compassionate people that mentored me and welcomed me into the world of ministry.
This period of my life lasted about a decade. Even through trials, I felt valued and that I was growing into the woman who God intended me to be. Then my husband was diagnosed. Then my husband died.
My brain, my soul, my being was consumed by his death, my loss. I couldn’t think of others. I could barely think of myself or my children. All I could think was how God could not answer my prayers this time…the way I wanted this prayer answered. I became impatient with God, impatient with who I was, impatient with thoughts of my future.
In his second stanza, Teilhard de Chardin writes,
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
So, for over five years now, I have been waiting for tomorrow. I can say with authority that grief does bring life to a gradual pace. First, I was lost in the past. Then I tried to cope with the reality he had died, I was alone and this was my life. Now, as I integrate this reality into my life, I realize that I am being gradually formed into the me I will be. Through, dare I say, the grace of grief, I am formed into someone I don’t always recognize, but, that someone is the me I am to become. Would I rather this grace came in a different way? You bet! Would I rather have a different lesson to gain some patience? No doubt. Fortunately or unfortunately, this was my path. It has been my road of surrender and strength, loss sprinkled with wisdom, growth filled with pain.
Teilhard de Chardin’s third stanza,
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
So, today I sit in the anxiety of feeling myself and return to a prayer of patience and gratitude that I am incomplete. Incomplete is becoming. I will sit in trust that this loss, this grief, this sadness will make me more wholly into who I am meant to be.
For more info on Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., you can see http://ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-voices/20th-century-ignatian-voices/pierre-teilhard-de-chardin-sj/.