Thursday, July 22, 2010

Column: Patience is not a fence to contain the unruly

Last year I let him jump off the cliff into the waters of Crater Lake. That was easier than letting him drive to the bookstore. Motherhood is not a rational state of mind!

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 22 July 2010, the feast of Mary Magdalene.

His mother stored up all these things in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and men. — Lk. 2:51b-52

Increases in stature are de rigueur in my household these days. Chris has grown an inch and a half since Christmas and Mike, long taller than I, now sees eye to eye with his dad — much to Victor’s dismay.

I’ve known since the doctor announced, “You have a son!” that one day I would look up to my children. These days it seems there isn’t much I need to do to assure their physical growth beyond stocking the refrigerator with astonishing amounts of food. It’s the growth in other dimensions that I fret over.

This passage in Luke was one of my mother’s favorites. Over the years it’s grown to be one of mine as well, one in which I find both comfort and challenge. The memories stored in my heart are a joy I cherish, but I hear, too, of a challenge to grow in wisdom not only for my sons, but for myself.

Bede the Venerable, a Benedictine monk in seventh century Wales, reflects on the ways in which Mary’s growth is entwined in her Son’s, and how she might have coped with the uncertainties inherent in being a parent. Luke tells us she holds within her the memories of His words and actions, and Bede suggests “what she beholds in the present, she waits to have revealed with greater clarity in the future.” Or as St. Augustine puts it more bluntly, “Patience is the companion of wisdom.”

This week, I’ve been praying hard for patience and wisdom all around. Mike got his permit to drive. As I handed Mike the keys to the car, he had the same mad grin on his face as when he realized he could crawl. And I had the same feeling in the pit of my stomach, just magnified. Negotiating the stairs is one thing; Lancaster Avenue at rush hour, quite another.

I envy Mary’s patience, her ability not only to surrender her desires for God’s desires, but her surrender to the uncertainty that comes with that territory. If she had never let Jesus learn to walk, He could not have left home, to preach, to teach, to heal, to redeem. At the moment she first let go His hand, she could not imagine where this would lead. Yet she let go. Marveling at what is before her now, awash in the past, patiently waiting to see what will unfold.

As Mike cautiously pilots his way around Coopertown learning to drive, I’m gaining patience. I’m growing more aware that patience is not just the ability to momentarily hold back a stream of motherly advice about gear shifts and stop signs. Nor it is it waiting with gritted teeth to see what happens. Will he stop in time?

Patience draws on that reservoir of memories in my heart. Patience is knowing that as the past lends clarity to the present, so this present will open more clearly in the future. Patience is a sanctuary of trust, built stone by stone, not a temporary fence rolled out to contain an unruly crowd. So I remember those wobbling first steps, and when I see that same fierce look of concentration on Mike’s face now, I can let go (mentally) of the brake. He is on task. And may even stop.

More deeply, it’s a reminder to ponder in my heart what I know of Mary’s Son. To let those things color my present, to help me wait with patient trust for what will be revealed. It seems that these summer driving lessons will yield more than just a license for Mike — perhaps there will a measure of patience and wisdom offered to me.

Lord God, open our hearts to your grace. Let it go before us and be with us, that we may be intent upon doing your will. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen. — Opening prayer for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time


  1. I, too, have cherished this passage in Luke throughout the growing up years of our children.

    I came into this marriage and there were two lovely children already present in the house. They came to live with us when my third daughter (in three years) was born. So at age 30 I had five children under my "mother's wing."

    I know for a fact I did not have the grace nor the trust of Mary. But I did, and do, have her image pressed firmly in my heart.

    Pondering Mary, pondering her Son, pondering their relationship has always brought me whatever measure of patience and peace I needed when what I really wanted to ponder was how I was going to "keep" my child safe.

    :) Welcome to the world of driving teens ... I hope you have your seatbelt fastened!

  2. Anonymous8:03 AM

    What a beautiful post. This is the first time that I have read your blog.

    thank you