A phrase has been turning over in my mind lately, whispering to me daily like an encouraging friend: “Trust in the slow work of God.” It came to me through Greg Boyle’s lovely book Tattoos on the Heart, and was originally written by Teilhard de Chardin. It has been tempering the impatience in my heart; the agitation I’ve felt as I’ve waited not just for the end of my cold, but also for greater peace of heart.
These are not easy virtues to come by. Spring came slowly and late to Winnipeg this year, and we’ve had to exercise patience and hope as gardens inched up ever so slowly. I could water and weed and wait, but I could not force those new shoots to come one minute sooner than they did. It was certainly a time to trust in the slow work of God.
At this time in the school year, it’s not uncommon for teachers and students alike to be counting down the days until summer break. 14 more days. Caught in between life as it is and life as it will be, we are tempted to tap our inner feet impatiently. Living in the moment becomes harder. Why focus on the moment when change is around the corner?
I begin every day with prayers, asking God to help me meet the challenges ahead. I ask for patience and compassion for my students as I enter the million interactions that make up one day, and I pray twice adding the names of certain students who are my greater teachers. Every day, I see the hand of God at work, but I also see the “not yet” of life. Many situations don’t get resolved overnight and require a steady dose of patience and hope. In the meantime, waiting can make me edgy and impatient.
It’s the same thing in our hearts. We have to wait for our characters to grow in God’s own timing. My prayer guide reminded me of this same thing with a scripture passage. “We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next.” (Romans 5:3, The Message translation)
Shouting praise for troubles is not exactly the first thing that comes to mind when I’m faced with them! It seems I’d rather fret and complain! But God tells me I can take this view of my troubles because through them, God is doing the slow work of developing patience and trust.
This is difficult to do because everyday life can seem murky. Scripture says that we see through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13). We don’t always understand why certain situations or people have to be in our path, like detours that makes our drive longer. Stuck in the middle of our life stories, it’s easy to forget that it’s all going somewhere, and that something new is surely being formed in the hands of God, the loving Potter.
Staying disciplined with physical exercise is easy for me, but it’s the exercise of patience and hope that is much tougher. Lately, it feels like I’ve been getting wake up calls, reminding me to trust in the slow work of God. I’m so grateful for this phrase that has softened my impatience and turned my face back to God.
Here is the whole poem by Teilhard de Chardin. It is well worth the read. Perhaps today I’ll print it out, place it in my pocket, take a breath and read it when I can’t see the way.
Trust in the Slow Work of God
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
Yet it is the law of all progress that is made
by passing through some stages of instability
and that may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually. Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves without undue haste.
Do not try to force them on
as though you could be today what time
— that is to say, grace —
acting on your own good will
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new Spirit
gradually forming in you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
Above all, trust in the slow work of God,
our loving vine-dresser.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit, paleontologist, biologist, and philosopher. 1881-1955