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Being a patient is slowly teaching me about patience

A pretty watch is shown with an impatient message scrawled beside it. (OSV News photo/Katarzyna, Pixabay)
A pretty watch is shown with an impatient message scrawled beside it. (OSV News photo/Katarzyna, Pixabay)

“Patience is a virtue,” I try to remind myself as the oncology receptionist hands me the clipboard filled with five separate (and badly copied) forms I know I’ve already completed online.

“Don’t complain. Just smile and say thank you,” I whisper internally.

Truly, I am grateful these days. I’m grateful for access to excellent health care and the professionals who render compassionately. I’m grateful for family and friends who have prayed for me ceaselessly during my cancer treatment process. And I’m grateful beyond measure for my caregiving husband whose love has known no bounds during the last six months.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t also admit to being wildly impatient. This is a new trait for me.

In the past, I’ve had bouts of impatience. As a young professional stymied by a lack of experience, I felt impatient for not having been recognized by my older peers. Raising toddlers and navigating my sons’ teenage years certainly brought occasional moments of parental frustration. And I have confessed to more than one priest my ongoing impatience with my husband’s driving.

But by and large, my impatience in those moments felt like a temporary state, not the preexisting condition I carry with me these days.

My impatience with being a patient is something entirely new.

I am impatient with the endless hours of waiting that come with various forms of medical treatment. I’m impatient with the bureaucracy inherent in the process. Terribly, I feel impatient with the well-intentioned reminders of others that I should avoid “overdoing it.” Most of all, I’m impatient with myself and my inability to more quickly bounce back to my pre-diagnosis self.

In my better moments, it’s occurred to me since I turned 60 in June that this healing process, and aging itself, provide excellent opportunities to grow in the virtue of patience.

There is a saying attributed online to Mother Teresa and although I’ve never been able to find a source for it, it’s sound counsel: “Without patience, we will learn less in life. We will see less. We will feel less. We will hear less. Ironically, rush and more usually mean less.” Since my decision to intentionally work on growing in the virtue of patience, those words have reminded me to pause intentionally during my moments of impatience and to see them as opportunities to learn and grow.

My first step in this process has been to recognize my problem, admit it to myself, and take it to the sacrament of penance, spiritual direction, and counseling. It’s hard to avoid accepting the olive branch that’s typically offered when I’m reminded, “You have a good excuse for being impatient these days.”

The harm that comes to me spiritually (when I simply accept impatience as an ongoing state of mind) is one of my major motivations for wanting to grow in patience. St. Peter Damian, an eleventh-century reformer and Doctor of the Church, taught his followers about the power of patience. “The best penance is to have patience with the sorrows God permits,” he said. “A very good penance is to dedicate oneself to fulfill the duties of every day with exactitude and to study and work with all our strength.”

That helps. Slowing down helps, too — helps me to embrace the small moments each day when impatience can give way to virtue.

The proffered stack of medical forms reminds me to be intentionally grateful for our insurance coverage, and to pray for so many worldwide who go without even the most basic healthcare.

The extra hour spent in a waiting room is a chance to pray what I’ve come to refer to as a “waiting Rosary.” I count the heads of my fellow patients and use them as my “beads,” praying a Hail Mary for each of them and their needs in the silence of my heart.

My frustration with my own exhaustion and inability to focus reminds me to pray for the souls of my parents, to give thanks for the progress I have actually made, and to recognize that this new stage of my life offers many blessings I am only just beginning to realize.

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. “Senior Standing” appears monthly at OSV News.

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