I wish I had always known God’s loving tenderness. I have been a Catholic all my life but it was only a year ago that I discovered a God who loves us with such magnitude that not only is He powerful, He is also tender, as a terrified new father, who stands in by the hospital bed, holding his newborn.
I find this tenderness summed up well in this quote from C.S Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce”. I have to admit that I haven’t yet read the book, so I can’t make any claim to understand the context of this quote. But for the purpose of this article, I am interpreting as a reference to God the Father:
“He also loves.
He has also suffered.
He has also waited a long time.”
This quote has given me so much comfort and encouragement during the coronavirus pandemic. I live in the UK, where our lockdown is very strict, we’re five weeks into it with no signs of letting up yet. No public Masses, no churches open, no visiting people outside your home unless for reasons of absolute necessity. I am very fortunate, and very grateful, that so far I have not had to endure the worst of what this pandemic has to offer. But what I want to write about is the pain of waiting out a time of uncertainty, and a time without the Sacraments and people who we love.
Like many others, I have not been able to receive the Sacraments for over a month. My fiancé and I are in lockdown in separate cities; only twenty-five miles apart, but unable to see each other. We are not sure if our wedding this summer will be able to go ahead as planned. This is all difficult and painful, but in this situation I find myself discovering great gratitude; for the Sacraments themselves, even if I cannot receive them. For the comfort of being able to receive them so easily, all my life. For the health of my family. For having met my fiancé in the first place.
In the midst of all the fear, grief, boredom, uncertainty and sadness, I also feel a sense of peace. This peace has surprised me; C.S Lewis also wrote a book “Surprised by Joy”; perhaps I could tweak the title and say, I have been surprised by peace. It’s certainly not a peace I have been able to manufacture for myself, and it doesn’t lessen how much I miss the Sacraments, or my loved ones, but it does sustain me. I am enormously grateful for it.
Discovering the above C.S Lewis quote was something that helped form that sense of peace. As I approach my thirtieth birthday this year, I can look back and see that all through my twenties God was teaching me patience. Patience, the never ending lesson of life that seems to be the recurring theme of year after year of “being alive”. Patience in my early twenties, as my storm-tossed soul raged at God and battered its restless self against everything I saw as a threat. Patience, as I healed and mellowed and waited years to meet the man I love; years worth every moment of waiting. Patience, as I wait each year for the long British winters to finally give up their dank, chilly hold, and soften into the beauty of spring.
Patience, as I take my daily allowance of exercise in a neighborhood I usually rush through without a second glance. Now I am discovering patches of nature I didn’t know existed.
Patience, as I pray my Rosary, unseasonably radiant sunshine, while cool evening wind comes up from the coast, knocking bluebells about and tumbling through long grass where I’ve learnt field mice play, if only you can wait long enough for them to appear.
I used to think that patience, and waiting, was a battle between me and God. I used to think that He was on the other side of a battle line, tussling with me to give up whatever I was waiting on. I used to think that this waiting game was a fight to the bitter end, that only when I was exhausted from the longing and complaining and wanting, He would take pity on me. Which is perhaps exactly what used to happen.
Now I know better- though not perfectly- that waiting is a much friendlier thing than all this anger and bitterness. God and I, we are on the same side. If I want to, I can wait with God. He will wait with me. It’s not always easy to see it this way, I know. But it doesn’t change the truth of it.
“He has also loved”.
The truth is that God has waited more than I ever will. It’s not a competition, nor is God rubbing it in our face to make us feel bad. All our loves on earth, that are so good and wholesome and important, come from the greatest romance that ever was and ever will be; the tender love of a Father who longed to make us, longed to redeem us, and longs to call us home from wherever we have been wandering.
“He has also suffered”.
When we are in the middle of deep suffering it is often not comforting to be told that others have it worse than you, even if that is true. Perhaps the biggest maturing of faith, that can only be learned over time and never rushed, is that God suffers with us when we suffer. We see in the Gospels so many times; Christ is deeply, profoundly moved with compassion by another’s suffering. It’s often only with hindsight that we see that God was with us all along, and this can feel a perverse way of learning something so important, yet it sustains us for the next time.
“He has also waited a long time.”
Here is where we see the tenderness of the Father. In learning to wait through my twenties for many things, I learned that much of our waiting is done out of love. We hear a lot about how our society cannot wait anymore; everything must be instant, on demand, immediate gratification. But we forget all the times that we do wait, patiently, and with great love. The love of parents and family waiting nine months for a baby. The love that I wait out each winter, longing for spring, because I love beauty, light, and warmth. The love that I grew in as I waited to meet a good man, the love that gave me the strength not to settle or compromise even when it was really, really tempting. The love that we all wait for now, longing, sometimes with tears, to hear the words of absolution, or to see the host lifted high and not just on our computer screens. The wait that we make out of love, to receive Christ in our hearts again.
God waits, not out of impatience or anger, but out of pure love. He waits with the same tenderness we wait, with the love of one desperate to hold us, calm us, be with us. He waits longer than we could ever comprehend. He stops at nothing to keep calling us back.