The School of (Im)patience
As I write this, I am 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant (and no, there are no plans for me to be induced as both baby and I are completely healthy and my midwife's philosophy is that so long as that's the case, there's no need to rush a baby out of the womb artificially). If you're a mom who's gone past her due date for any significant amount of time, you know how difficult the waiting can be. So many of you have sent me encouraging messages, comments, and emails, offering your prayers and practical tips on how to make these long days go by a little faster. And I so appreciate it. But I feel almost guilty, because the waiting hasn't been that difficult--or rather, it hasn't been as difficult as I expected it to be.
Yesterday at Mass, I started reflecting on why that is. As I've shared in the past, my typical MO is to be ridiculously impatient about pretty much everything, from my birthday to my vocation. Why hasn't that been the case these past ten days of discomfort, fatigue, and other not-so-fun symptoms of late pregnancy?
I think it's because 10 days (or two weeks or whatever it ends up being by the time this little boy decides to make his appearance) of waiting for my baby to be born--an event that I know will occur eventually--is nothing to waiting for 10 years to meet my husband and enter into the vocation of marriage. Or waiting for the union with Christ that I long for that will only happen in heaven.
When I realized this yesterday, I was filled with gratitude for everything the Lord taught me, for all that he purified within me, during my time as a single woman. And even if you didn't spend ten years waiting for your vocation to come to fruition, if you're currently in the midst of waiting for anything that your heart deeply longs for, I guarantee that the Lord has/is educating your heart in the school of patience.
Today, I want to share with you what the Lord taught me in the Crucible of Patience, as well as the practical things I learned to do while waiting that made the journey much more joyful.
The fruit of waiting:
Purification of entitlement.
Like it or not, most of us in the first world are prone to think that we deserve certain blessings from God: a particular job, a particular vocation, a particular standard of living, good health, financial security, a baby who comes "on time"...whatever it might be, the tendency to entitlement is powerful.
I've noticed this in myself, and I've also noticed that the longer that the Lord makes me wait (even if that means waiting until heaven for certain gifts), the more purified my sense of entitlement becomes. In recent years, I've become much more aware of just how unprofitable a servant I am, and that God's love does not always look the way we want it to.
That doesn't mean that you can't tell the Lord how you feel (forgotten, angry, disappointed, etc) when you're in the midst of waiting, or when the answer to your fervent prayers is "no." He is a loving Father who wants his children to confide in Him, after all. What it does mean is learning to accept that God does not "owe" us anything, no matter how righteous we think we are, and that his love and his provision do not always look the way we expect them to--and that is ultimately a good thing.
Freedom from a self-made timeline.
When I was in college, I had my life planned: I would meet my husband at Notre Dame (because there couldn't possibly be any other good Catholic men in the world except for on my college campus of 8,000 students), get married by the age of 22, and have 4-6 kids by the time I was in my mid-thirties. My attachment to this timeline led to an unseemly amount of restlessness, anxiety, and was responsible for not a few forced relationships, both in college and in my early twenties.
Once it became clear that I was not, in fact, going to be married by the time I was 22, I moved my timeline up a bit: as long as I get married before 30, I told myself, then I'll be okay. I can make it as a single woman until 30. I'll still look good in my wedding photos. I can still have 4-6 kids, and not be an "old" mom. Once again, this artificial timeline was the cause of lots of anxiety and heartache. The Lord continued to ask me to wait, and I continued to resist.
When I finally let go of the timeline, it was because my prayer life and the healing I experienced in therapy freed me to trust that God's timing was infinitely better than mine. I came to a point, at the ripe old age of 31, where I was ready to say with St. Gianna, "Whatever God wants," and to actually believe that what God wanted was what was best.
An eternal perspective.
As much as I like to say that I believe in eternal life, and that I know earth is not my home, and that nothing in this life will ever perfectly satisfy me, most of the time, I don't live like I believe it. I realized this in a new way in therapy, when I finally articulated that I was afraid of dying before I got married, because I had built marriage up in my mind as the end-all, be-all of my existence. In both therapy and spiritual direction, I got to the bottom of this idolatry: my fear of death and the weakness of my faith in eternal life.
The Lord gently and lovingly taught me that unless my hope was in Him, and in His promise of eternal life, the cup of earthly happiness that I so longed to drink would turn to ash in my mouth.
Now, as I wait for the birth of my son, I am reminded of this reality: that unless my joy is built on the unshakeable foundation of Christ's love, even something as beautiful as becoming a mother can become an unbearable burden. Unless my hope is in heaven, and my perspective is eternal, this life will be miserable. To live my life in the light of heaven is both a daily work: I never do it perfectly, but by the grace of God, I am learning to be more aware of my need to do it.
Tips for thriving during a time of waiting (i.e. your entire life because you'll always be waiting for something):
Engage in meaningful work and service to others.
I could not have made it through my single decade without meaningful work and service to others, because 1) it's a foolproof way to get your focus off of yourself and 2) it's essential to the Christian life.
I spent extra time with my students at school, used my lunch breaks to build relationships with students who needed a listening ear, and spent hours each weekend giving my students what some would call "unnecessary" amounts of feedback on their writing assignments for theology.
I volunteered my spare time during the evenings and weekends to local parishes (as a catechist), to my married friends/family with kiddos (as a babysitter/encourager), and to other charities.
I sent letters and cards to friends who I knew wouldn't have time to write me back, just because I wanted to bless them with snail mail.
I wish I had done more of this and less Netflix binging, but that's another story.
These are all things that I will be hard-pressed to find time for once my baby is born, and God-willing, more kids come on the scene. Whatever season of life you're in right now, there are ways you can serve that you can only do in this season.
Keeping this in mind kept me going during some of the more difficult periods of my single life, just as going to daily Mass, replying to emails from blog readers, and blessing my friends with out-of-the-womb kiddos in any way I can, is keeping me going during these final days and weeks of pregnancy.
Cultivate Authentic Friendships
I think this one goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: it's impossible to live the Christian life well without solid friendships, and it's much easier to wait in joyful hope when you have brothers and sisters in Christ who are praying for you, encouraging you, challenging you, and simply loving you. My single years were made so much brighter by dear friends who were (and are) truly sisters, and these past couple of weeks of waiting on Baby J have been that much easier because of their prayers.
Pray (for real)
This is another "duh", but I still have to say it: Christian waiting can't happen without a prayer life in which you're actually honest with God. Specific prayers that have been particularly helpful to me are the Litany of Patience and the Novena of Surrender (seriously--this novena is life. changing.).
A few years ago, I started making it a daily practice to begin each time of prayer with gratitude, instead of immediately launching into my litany of petitions for the things I wanted from God. It made a huge difference in my outlook, my mood, and my approach to my relationship with the Lord. Our relationship became less about me trying to convince him to give me things (like a husband), and more of an actual relationship (imagine that!).
Regardless of where you are in life right now, my prayer for you is that the Lord blesses you by making you wait, and that you respond differently than I did: not by resisting, but by leaning into the waiting, allowing it to transform your heart, and using it to serve Christ and others.