Along our collective journey toward sainthood, all too often we are met with speed bumps along the way. If you are anything like me, though, you are met with gaping, tire-flattening potholes.
Case in point: I am standing behind a woman at the sushi bar. It is a small part of a much larger food buffet that my family and I like to frequent, inexpensive, not too good, but you can eat as much as you want. The sushi is by no means gourmet. It is pretty minimal by sushi terms, just salmon, red and white tuna, and a bunch of different rolls.
So, this woman in front of me is looking over the display as if she were picking out an engagement ring. She prods a piece with the tongs, pokes another piece, lifts one up turning it around and wonders out loud what is in this roll and what is in that roll. It’s not a commitment; it’s sushi, I want to scream.
Of course I don’t, but I want to, and that’s the problem.
The Catholic Church teaches us that the fruits of the Holy Spirit are perfections, and the tradition of the church lists 12 of them. Among the 12 are self-control — which was certainly quite obvious with my teeth-clenched demeanor — and then there is patience which is a fruit that still hangs on a branch just out of my reach.
Someone long ago told me that if I prayed for patience, God would answer by putting me in situations that required patience for me to learn. I immediately stopped praying for patience, but I suppose the heart of prayer speaks more loudly than the mouth.
It seems wherever I go, there’s a reason to wait. Any lane on the highway I am in is always, always the slowest lane. Whenever I’m at the convenience store to buy a gallon of milk, it never fails that I find myself behind someone who is buying a fleet’s worth of lottery tickets. Outwardly, I appear cool and calm, but, inside, I am combusting and I know that is not good, not at all healthy, not at all aiding my spiritual growth. I am not clothing myself in patience (Col 3:12), I am wearing the rags of agitation.
The woman at the sushi bar moves over enough to give me space to at least get to the wasabi. I reach for a small plastic cup, but knock over half of them which only increases my ire. As I move to pick them up, someone else slips in between me and the sushi inspector.
At this point I start to chuckle to myself because the scene seems so utterly surreal. Why am I feeling the angst of impatience? My logical side knows it’s only going to take another, what, 60 seconds, 90 seconds before I can fill my plate.
I realize it is I who needs to slow down, to try to do everything with precise and deliberate action which includes waiting. I realize that the fruit of the Holy Spirit is there for me and as it ripens, it will weigh down the branch to be picked with much more ease.
And so I try. I say a little prayer, and I slow down. And as quickly as the ire inflames, it extinguishes, completely. Calm is nice. The challenge, of course, is to keep this up. Now each time I feel the agitation begin to fester, I say a little prayer, settling me down, bringing me closer to our Lord.
Leaving the restaurant, as I am getting into our car, there is a person stopped waiting for my parking spot. Immediately I want to get back out of the car, put something in the trunk, move extremely slowly, maybe even go back into the restaurant because there are plenty of empty parking spots just a few spaces away. A few more steps on your walk to the buffet aren’t going to hurt you, I want to shout.
Of course I don’t, but I want to, and that’s the problem. Patience is a high hanging fruit, and there is still so much more for me still hanging on that tree.
Dean P. Johnson teaches English in Camden and is a member of Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro.