During the pandemic, all sorts of memories came back to me, some wonderful, some very sad. I received at least one important insight into myself. Often I am in high gear, involved with many projects, pressured to keep a number of commitments, trying to meet various deadlines. What I have discovered about myself is that I easily tend to be impatient. And I mean easily.
I want everything to have happened yesterday! I especially have noticed the impatience when I am waiting in a line to be served, for example at a drugstore when I go to pick up prescribed medicines. I watch the people who are serving customers and wonder why those working cannot work faster.
Waiting just a few minutes on the line, I have found annoys me. Most times when I am in a rush it is not because I might be late for some crucially important appointment. If I could calm down, I would realize that I am putting myself under pressure, that there really is no good reason to be impatient.
Reflecting on this insight I am wondering what role it might play in my relationship with other people, even close friends. I am also wondering what role it might play in my relationship with God. Recalling some of the advice that my spiritual director/confessor has been giving me in recent years, I wonder if he has seen that my tendency to be impatient has slipped into my relationship with God.
Many times I have heard in the sacrament of reconciliation that I should rejoice about God’s presence in my life and be deeply grateful that the Holy Spirit has used me to help others. I believe the advice expressed in the statement, “Occasionally we should stop to smell the roses.” I believe it is excellent advice for all of us. It is good advice for both our spiritual lives and our emotional lives, but I don’t find it easy to do. No sooner do I have a wonderful experience of the Holy Spirit’s presence in my life and in some good work that I have performed, then instead of gratefully recognizing the Spirit’s presence, I am on to my next project. I think that ingratitude is terrible, but my lack of patience may distract me from being grateful and from experiencing the deep joy that should be part of my life.
Reflecting on my impatience has led me to reflect on God’s patience. God is infinitely patient with us. I love the expression, “God is not finished with me yet.” I suspect for many people, growing in a love relationship with God is a slow, gradual process. Perhaps many of us place obstacles before the Holy Spirit. We fail and fall many times. Thank God we often get up and try again. This may be what seems like a lifelong process. God never gives up on us. While thinking about God’s patience in planning to write this column I thought of a piece of dialogue from a play that I very much like. In fact, except for Shakespeare’s plays, it may be my favorite play. It is Graham Greene’s “The Potting Shed.”
A potting shed is a British term for what Americans call a greenhouse, a shed in which flowers are protected and nourished so that they can grow and blossom. I envy people who have developed the habit of gardening. Watching some small seed you have planted grow and develop into something beautiful must be a wonderful experience. It seems to me to be participating in the creativity of God. I never had the patience to cultivate the habit.
The play centers around a family most of whose members have been running away from God, the Hound of Heaven. The potting shed in which a miracle may have happened becomes a symbol of God’s presence. As the play moves towards its dramatic conclusion, some members of the family have finally recognized God’s presence in their lives.
Throughout the play, Greene makes direct and indirect references to God as a potter shaping people’s lives. For example, the gardener’s name is Potter, a dog is named Spot, the family‘s name is Callifer, which is the joining of two Latin words meaning pot bearer.
The last lines of the play present a wonderful image of God. While the adults are discussing God, the youngest member of the family, Anne, who is about twelve years of age, has been asleep behind a curtain, on a window seat. She wakes up and announces that she has had a funny dream. She dreamt that she walked down to the potting shed and there was an enormous lion sleeping there. One of the adults asks Anne what she did and she responds that she woke it up. One of the adults asked, “Did the lion bite you?” Anne responds, “No, it only licked my hand.”
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.