If you’ve ever tried to keep a house clean with small children running around, you know how challenging that can be. Messes appear at lightning speed. As soon as you deal with one thing, there’s something else needing to be cleaned up, straightened, or fixed.
Our spiritual life can feel like that too. We resolve to straighten things up and we make an effort, but the mess keeps coming back. We want to be better, but we keep falling short.
In today’s Epistle reading, St. Paul exhorts us to remember that we are the “temple of the living God,” and therefore to “cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit.” This is something we need to take to hear. It can be discouraging, though, when we seem to be working at this all the time, and apparently not making progress.
This is where patience comes in. In Luke 21:19, the Lord says, “By your patience possess your souls.” Patience: in Greek, the word here is “ypomoni,” which means “patient endurance” or “holding out.” We keep going and don’t give up. How do we not give up? Well, we believe that there’s a God Who is “everywhere present” and sees our struggle and crowns our struggle and Who doesn’t want us to give up. In other words, we have the fear of God, which St. Paul says will “make holiness perfect.”
So the fear of God inspires patience. And what comes of being patient? “By your patience possess your souls.” There are two options here. Either we possess our souls by our patience, or our souls get possessed by the spirit of impatience. And that spirit leads to other things that can possess our souls.
The real issue with impatience is not being willing to suffer. Patience means suffering; that’s the root of the word, and it’s the spiritual reality. The Lord Jesus is long-suffering; He is patient for our sake. He patiently endured His crucifixion out of love for us, and He called us to follow Him in that path. We, however, often aren’t willing to be patient; we don’t want to suffer. So what do we do? We rush, we hurry, we skip to the end. We give up; we don’t want to endure. We don’t want to put up with other people or to bear our circumstances.
In our contemporary culture, we medicate ourselves with all kinds of things because of our impatience. But our refusal to suffer the suffering of patience leads to worse suffering. We lose possession of our souls, and instead they become controlled by the things we use to medicate ourselves. Addictions, compulsions, and destructive, impulsive decisions all result from our impatience. Our problem is our unwillingness to wait, quietly, for God to act.
“By your patience possess your souls.” St. Peter wrestled with impatience in today’s Gospel passage, and God gave him the victory. He and those with him had toiled all night in their fishing boats, and now it was morning and they were exhausted. The Lord Jesus shows up and, after teaching the people, He tells them to take the boat out and let down their nets for a catch. Peter sounds tired, and maybe bordering on irritation. He starts to grumble, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” But he had been listening to the Lord’s words, and something in them must have sparked the fear of God and fanned the flame of patience, so he shifts into a different mode, and says, “Nevertheless, at your word I will let down the nets.” And of course, the catch is enormous, to the point that the nets are breaking.
We may find ourselves, like Peter, exhausted with our struggles. We may seem to have been toiling all night with no catch. We may feel spent, irritated. We may be tired of waiting, and waiting for something to change. We may be frustrated with certain people, and tired of bearing with them. Most of all, we may be tired of ourselves and our own failures. But the Lord is telling us, “By your patience possess your souls.” The catch, for those who are patient and wait on the Lord, is enormous. In the nets of our patience, we will catch our souls and a great wealth of spiritual blessings.
“Slowly, slowly,” as the expression goes. “I waited patiently for the Lord,” says King David in the Psalms, and “He brought me up out of a horrible pit…and set my feet upon a rock.” God is with us, and desires our salvation, and if we are patient and endure to the end, we “shall be saved.” Patience with our own situation goes hand in hand with being patient with others. If we put our hope in Christ, we will not grieve so much over worldly disappointments or the shortcomings of others.
I end with a story from the life of St. John the Merciful, the patriarch of Alexandria. One day while he was on the way to church, he was approached by a woman begging for his help with something. St. John’s attendants started tell her to leave him alone because he was on his way to church, and that he would help her afterwards. But St. John said, “How will God receive my prayers if I put this woman off?” And so he patiently listened to the woman and did what he could to help her, even though he was delayed in getting to the church.
Maybe it’s an interruption in our day, when we’re on our way to do something important, or a child waking us up in the middle of the night. Maybe it’s a person who irritates us or insults us, or a sickness that won’t go away. Maybe it’s our desire to settle a major life decision like our career or our future spouse, or something as little as waiting in a long line. No matter what happens to test our patience, we should remember that God has been incredibly patient with each of us throughout our lives. It is the least we can do to exercise patience with other people and with our own circumstances, in return. And through our patience, God will enable us to possess our souls, and to gain great spiritual blessings. To our long-suffering Lord Jesus Christ be all honor and glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.