The great work

Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House

Fr Gilbert Shaw (Anglican spiritual guide) used to remark that ‘patience is a great work’. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and grows out of the Love of God which is among other virtues ‘patient, kind and endures all things.’ Patience is necessary to clear the way for those two key activities of the Christian life – watching and waiting. A farmer friend tells me that leaning over the gate having a good look is the most important work of the day. ‘Unless you have a good long look, you don’t know what’s up.’

Inevitably none of us can divorce ourselves from the rush and tear of contemporary life. The slowness of things is not a selling point. Even people going on holiday want to get there as fast as possible. The consequent stretching of nerves and the evaporation of patience is an inevitable consequence.

But the Christian must be patient. God cannot be hurried. As Jesus teaches us the time and hours of his work are set by the Heavenly Father’s authority. Hurry is the devil. But how do we cultivate the great work of patience? Our first course of action must be to ask the Lord that we may produce patience as an abundant fruit of his spirit. We must see that as part of the Divine economy; we must ask for grace to live in His love which is patient.

The second way is also a way of prayer. Take the subject of your impatience be it animal, vegetable or mineral to God in prayer: particularly if the animal is human! Place everything in the mercy and light of God and ask him to work out his will in it all. We are most impatient with the things we cannot control. God has all things in his hand. Place your trust in him.

On a practical level do everything you can to slow down. Make fewer commitments; allow more time for journeys. Be patient with yourself and then you will be more patient with others.

These courses of action – this threefold strategy helps us understand why Fr Gilbert called it a ‘Great Work’. Work means ‘overcoming resistance’. It means effort, discipline and application. Patience, so essential to balance and stability in our emotions and spiritual life will not just happen.

Conversely if we are impatient and irritable it is a sure symptom that we are not open to God in our prayer and that we are carrying too much of the world ourselves. We must love ourselves enough so that we do not become over-stretched and tired. Patience is a sure touchstone of our spiritual life. Jesus, as we see him in the gospels, is often impatient with his disciples – his tactic was to withdraw by himself and pray. Do not for one minute think that you can deal with impatience without bringing your needs to God and resting in him. Remember he knows your needs before ever you ask.

If we are patient we are living in hope. May the God of hope give us joy in believing.