Turn the Suffering of Waiting into a Giggle
I hate to wait! But no matter how much I dislike it, there’s always something to wait on. I’m waiting for my kids to finally grow up and find out that I’m not so dumb after all. I’m waiting for my husband to tell me that his company gave him a million dollar bonus, and now he won’t have to work so hard. I’m waiting for the gourmet chef at Le Expenseev Cafe to have a born again experience and in a glorious vision see my house and hear the calling to “Go ye therefore and cook dinner for the Modicas,” without charge of course.
We all have relatives and friends for whom we’ve been praying with the longevity of St. Monica (whose wayward son eventually became the famous St. Augustine). We all have problems that should have, with all due common sense, ended yesterday. If not sooner. We all have dreams of the future — dreams that God gave to us Himself — that we’ve been counting on, hoping on, waiting on. Did you ever notice that God seems to have a knack for telling us that something wonderful is going to happen — and it sure feels like He’s pronouncing the word “soon” (read my lips: “s-o-o-n”), but it actually takes 11.9 years to materialize? What’s going on? Did He forget to adjust His watch for our time zone? Does living in Eternity perhaps confuse Him a little?
I hate to wait! I find that out for sure every time I go to the doctor’s office. Time slows down when you’re wearing those drafty hospital frocks. So I find ways to kill time. (Where does that expression come from? It sounds like we’re stopping time all together, but really we’re trying to hurry it along.) My daughter, Tammy, and I invented a game called “Race the BP.” To play this game, you take the squeeze-bulb on the Blood Pressure machine, and you squeeze it repeatedly to see who can make the mercury in the pressure-a-rometer thingy rise the fastest. This is best played if the blood pressure cuff is not on your arm.
Of course, you don’t want the doctor to come in and catch you violating his equipment. Part of the fun is to see if you can guess at what moment the doctor will finally walk through the door. When I am sure the entire staff has gone out to lunch for the rest of the day, the door knob starts to turn, I drop the blood pressure hose, then I have to stop it from swinging madly (it does that to alert the doctor that someone’s been touching things that don’t belong to them), and then I gaze at the ceiling with a blank stare of boredom to give the doctor the distinct impression that nothing — nothing at all — has been going on behind our closed door. But alas, the blood pressure hose is woooshing out the air I had pumped into it, and I have to pretend that I ate too many beans for lunch. (“Oh, hehehehe, excuse me doc. We might need some air freshener spray.”)
Life is full of difficult situations that make us wonder if God went out to lunch with the doctor and his staff and forgot to come back to solve our problems. But He is never really gone. And while we are waiting for an end to our trials, He is trying to teach us a few things so that it will be easier for us the next time a difficulty arises. We would get a lot happier during our sufferings if we could notice that each and every moment He is caring about us and working a plan for our good and not disaster.
It seems like God’s favorite lesson He has been trying to teach me is how to love everyone the way He loves them. This, apparently, is the reason He keeps giving me jerks. (Definition of “jerks” = Those poor souls who are the hardest to love, the grumpy people, the offensive people, the masterpieces of God who forgot to wait for all the colors to get painted on their canvases.) For example, staying in a host home one night while attending a retreat, I was greeted by the hostess with, “I am not going to cook you dinner!”
Okaayyy….. thanks for the welcome, lady!
That evening, my traveling companion, Nancy, and I commiserated over our situation. We both felt very uncomfortable staying there. As good Christians, we entered into the gift of the Holy Spirit called “discernment” and sought His answer to: What the heck was God thinking when He put us here? Before we could reach some powerful, prophetic insight, the hostess banged on the bedroom door and asked, “Are you girls asleep?” She wanted to socialize.
So we socialized. We socialized till it got late enough for us to exclaim inside a yawn, “Wow, look how late it’s gotten! Time for bed.” We were blessed: The lady caught the hint. She led us to the bathroom to show us where we could take a shower. As she opened the door, huge ants scrambled across the floor. I could hear them cry out, “Where did that light come from! Somebody shut it off!”
Our embarrassed hostess also cried out, and said, “Where did all these ants come from!” As we stomped on them for self-protection (isn’t it amazing that critters so much smaller than us can make us feel so endangered), we followed the ant trail to the cage of the resident parrot. Our hostess checked the poop-collection tray and sure enough, it was filled with crawling ants.
“Oh my God!” she shouted. And in a voice much like hers, the parrot screamed, “Oh my! Oh my God! Ohhhhhhh!” The harder our hostess tried to get rid of the ants, the more ants she found, and the more the parrot imitated her dismay. “Ants! Ohhhhhhh! Oh my!” Nancy and I wanted to show sympathy, but all we could do was laugh — and soon our previous discomfort about staying at this home melted away. In His great sense of humor, God taught us to relax, and in our giggling we found the ability to love our grumpy hostess.
I’m not always such a fast learner, though. Often, I’m like my own parrot, a quieter bird named Sammy. I had acquired Sammy because I grew up thinking it would be cool to have a bird that talks. When Sammy was new in our home, my husband and I used to take turns staring hard at the parrot attempting to teach him the words, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” You could see the question marks coming out of Sammy’s head as he stared back at us. Ralph had more patience than I did, but even he grew tired of the bird’s dumb looks, so he would say to me, “You do it, Terry. I don’t think this bird likes me.” Then I’d say, “Sure he does, Ralph. Just be persistent with him.” But no matter how often we tried to get through to his tiny bird brain, Sammy gave us nothing but question marks.
One day as Ralph walked by the cage, he paused to give the bird yet another chance to become affectionate with him. “I love you, I love you, I love you,” he said. And the bird said, “I love Terry.”
God tries to teach us wonderful truths, with even greater patience than Ralph exhibited. He repeats the message over and over, waiting for us to finally stop asking questions and to simply accept what He is saying. “Here’s how to bring an end to that difficult situation,” He says. “Trust in Me. I love you, I love you, I love you. Do you love Me? Do you really love Me?”
And what comes out of our mouths? “I love me! I have to take care of me. God isn’t working fast enough; I can only trust in my own way of handling this.” If only we could see that “our way” is a bunch of garbage.
A hazard of owning a bird is that the seeds we buy for bird food often contain microscopic baby moths, i.e., eggs that hatch into little white wormy things that climb out of the seed dish in search of a cozy little corner in the humans’ house. There they build cocoons in order to hatch into moths that fly in your face snickering, “Nah-nah-na-nah-nah. You can’t stop us. We’re a never-ending army conquering your territory.”
The exterminator who came to my house said that he had no pesticide to combat this enemy. So I learned how to play “Where’s Waldo the Caterpillar?” They would hide amidst the pops in my popcorn ceilings, and though I attempted to find them all to destroy their troops, they continued to send in the reinforcements. (I later discovered that the best battle tactic is to freeze the seeds for 24 hours after I bring them home from the store. That kills all the eggs, but it also creates a new hazard: When my family finds the bag of seeds in the freezer, they wonder if I’m planning some sort of low-calorie dish for dinner.)
Caterpillars have to find food, and these guys found my Cheerios. When I opened up the box and nothing poured into my bowl because the cereal had been trapped by a clever system of webby cocoons, I immediately dumped the box into my trash bin. I tied up the bag and threw it hastily into the garbage can for its trip to the dump.
Inside the bag, the caterpillars continued to munch on the Cheerios. They were happy. They were content. They had everything they needed to survive for a long time. They hatched from their cocoons, even as the bag was buried under piles of other bags at the dump. The moths couldn’t fly anywhere, but they could breed and lay more eggs. And so the cycle continued, and each generation of critters munched on the cereal and other food in the bag. If someone had opened the garbage bag, the moths would have freed themselves and discovered the delight of flight, but ignorant of their potential, they remained totally content to live in their garbage and teach their children to do the same.
We are like those caterpillars. When we fail to trust in God’s ways, it’s because we don’t know we have the potential to fly in the world beyond our garbage. We are content with what’s familiar to us. We don’t understand what we have not experienced, and so we don’t trust the “illogic” of it. We don’t believe that another way really exists or that it could be better than what we’re used to. The garbage has been passed down to us and we pass it on to our children. It’s an endless cycle until someone breaks free from the dark bag.
God says, “Do good to your enemy,” but we say, “That jerk will hurt me even more unless I do to him the same thing he’s doing to me. I have to teach him a lesson!” Or He says, “Tithe to Me your income,” but we say, “I can’t afford to put that much into the offering basket.” Or He says, “Admit you were wrong,” but we say, “I have to save face or else I’ll won’t be treated with respect.”
The cocoon that encases us inside our dark garbage bag is Fear. We are afraid that God’s ways won’t work. We fear that if we do good to our enemy, he will take advantage of us and our sufferings will get worse, when in reality it takes two to keep a fight going, and we melt the stony hearts of our enemy if we do only what is good to him. We fear that God won’t or can’t find ways to multiply our income when we honor Him with a portion of our earnings. We fear that admitting our fallacies and faults will confirm another fear — that we are inferior — and so we remain stuck in anger and arguments that destroy our relationships along with our inner peace.
God’s ways take time, and we hate to wait. It can feel like eternity in God’s waiting room. But if we choose trust instead of fear, we will discover that God is with us, each and every moment. There is joy in that, and peace. Patience comes from trusting.
Sammy knows how to conquer fear. We used to have a cat who saw in the bird a giant, succulent rotisserie meal. One day, as the cat lay stretched across the back of the couch, Sammy walked confidently out of his cage, crossed the floor, climbed up the couch, and marched right over to the cat. I watched as they met eye to eye. The cat’s tail twitched as he worked on a plan to deal with this big meal. Without another moment’s hesitation, the bird’s beak grabbed one of the cat’s whiskers and yanked. Hard. The cat ran. The bird was safe – forever safe from fear.
We can all yank the whiskers of whatever we fear. When we march up to fear and stare it in the eye, and then yank on it with a dose of laughter, fear flees. We are safe to trust God. We become willing to wait on the completion of His plans for us, because we know that His ways are indeed good and not disastrous. He loves us, He loves us, He loves us.
© 1999 by Terry A. Modica
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