A few weeks ago, I was visiting friends on their farm, and their blueberry bushes were bursting with beautiful, sweet fruit. As we walked along the rows and picked the berries—more of them finding their way to our mouths than our buckets—the father of the family remarked that they had planted the bushes three years ago, and they were now finally producing good, edible blueberries.
For as wonderful as the berries tasted to me—far better than any store-bought berry—they must have tasted even better to the family. Think about cultivating and caring for plants for three years… and finally getting the chance to taste (literally) the fruits of your labors! We take so much for granted with our easy access to produce year-round, it’s hard to imagine not being able to eat apples outside of autumn or avocados outside of California. And while waiting doesn’t automatically increase our appreciation, our instant-gratification culture could probably benefit from a dose of healthy patience occasionally.
The blueberry bush reminded me of the parable of the barren fig tree found in Luke 13:6-9. Jesus recounts that a vineyard owner discovered a fig tree that was still barren after three years. Questioning why he should waste his land with a barren tree, he is persuaded by the gardener to give the tree one more chance. Fig trees, like blueberry bushes, do take several years to produce good fruit. So this vineyard owner needed a little lesson in botany. Christ was reminding us, however, of the patience of the Father. Even though he wants us to be saints now, and even though the Jewish people should have recognized Christ in their midst, He doesn’t give up on His people. Eventually time will run out and judgment will come. But until then, He waits.
We too need the same patience of the Father. In the spiritual life, it’s important to learn patience with three people:
- Others. I’m not just talking about patience with that guy who is driving slow in the passing lane or the woman at the grocery store with six dozen coupons. We have to have patience with the conversion processes of our family and friends. In another parable, Jesus warns us that the kingdom of heaven is going to have weeds growing among the wheat, and reminds us that sorting out the two is not our responsibility. While we can judge actions, our Father is the judge of souls. We need to pray for our family and friends, we need to be good witnesses of the truth, and we need to spread the Gospel. But we also need to be patient. St. Josemaria Escriva said we need to cultivate patience which “moves us to be understanding with others, for we are convinced that souls, like good wine, improve with time.” If the gardener is willing to wait for the figs, we need to be willing to wait too. Never give up on our loved ones, no matter how far they seem to have strayed.
- Myself. Often, this is the hardest lesson to learn. Conversion is a slow process, and we need to have patience with our own shortcomings. This does not mean we have permission to sin, nor does it mean we should take sin lightly. But when we do fall – and we will – we know that the Father is waiting to take us back, if we have contrition (even if it’s imperfect!). Impatience with ourselves in the process of conversion isn’t a sign of virtue but a sign of pride. Get to confession, state your sins humbly, and then get back to work. As Francis de Sales reminds us, “Be patient with everyone but especially with yourself; I mean that you should not be troubled about your imperfections and that you should always have courage to pick yourself up afterwards. There is no better way of getting there in the end in the spiritual life than always starting all over again and never thinking that you have done enough.”
- God. It’s no news to anyone that “God works in mysterious ways” and “God’s time is not our time.” This can be terribly frustrating, to say the least. But we have to remember that in the big tapestry of life, we are only looking at a few threads. God has the entire picture in his mind at every moment, since He is always in the present. No matter how much we might knot those threads with our sins and disobedience, He loves us enough to work all for our good. His plan might not be our plan, and his time frame might not be our time frame, but since He is patient with us, we need to be patient with Him! It will be worth it, to say the least.
I appreciated those blueberries a lot more once I knew how long my friends had waited. Would I have been patient enough to nurture something without tasting results for years? The Lord is infinitely more patient with me.
The spiritual life is a gradual process that requires patience and mercy.
“Grace, like nature, normally acts gradually. We cannot, properly speaking, move ahead of grace. But in all that does depend on us we have to prepare the way and co-operate when God grants grace to us. Souls have to be encouraged to aim very high; they have to be impelled towards Christ’s ideal. Lead them to the highest goals which should not be reduced or made weaker in any way. But remember that sanctity is not primarily worked out with one’s own hands. Grace normally takes its time, and is not inclined to act with violence.” (St. Josemaría Escrivá)