One of the first things I did when I met a married person (or a married couple or a widow or widower)in my former parish in Ghana was to ask them how they met their spouses. Not surprisingly, many people truly like sharing this information, like telling the story of their initial meeting. It’s incredible how many different and interesting ways people meet – although here in the States “online” is quickly becoming the dominant way this happens. But then I asked them how their relationship progressed from there, how their courtship developed. Three types of stories got mentioned pretty often. Some people have the “love at first sight” story, the one where they said they “knew it right away”.
Others have a more traditional story. “We met at school and went out on a few dates. One thing led to another, and before we knew it, years had gone by and marriage seemed like the right thing to do. I guess you could say it took some time for us to fall in love, but we did.”
The third story I hear all the time, maybe the most often, is the one in which one partner says, “I wasn’t at all interested at first. He (she) kept asking and asking and asking over a period of months. Eventually he (she) wore me down! I said yes just to get it over with. If he (she) had given up, things wouldn’t have worked out as they have.”
The truth is that sometimes good things just take time.
At some level, we know that already. If you’ve ever tried to learn a musical instrument, you know that in the early stages there is a huge temptation to give up. It’s just difficult. The sound coming out of the instrument is usually awful. And practicing dips into one’s free time. But if a person sticks with it, if a person can just keep plugging away, eventually there is a kind of breakthrough – one that leads someone from a negative experience to a positive one, one that takes a person from drudgery to joy.
Sometimes good things just take time.
Maybe it is a sport you are playing for the first time. Maybe it’s some sort of art skill you are trying to develop. Maybe it’s those first few weeks or months in a completely new job. Maybe it’s an exercise regimen, something you’ve never tried before. Or maybe it’s some coursework in a new area of study. There are countless examples of things that have much better outcomes the more we stay with them, the more we try, the more we persevere, the more we don’t give up.
Today’s readings show three examples of this. In the First Reading from Exodus we see Moses doing all he can to keep the staff of God raised as he watched the Israelites in battle. He was tired. He was struggling to keep his arms up. Yet, he just kept at it and, well, the Israelites were victorious. (Try not to attempt to figure out how this “works”. That’s not really the point of the story.) In the Second Reading from St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, we see him encouraging Timothy in the faith, urging him to,
“ . . . proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
And in the Gospel story from St. Luke we hear the Parable of the Persistent Widow – a story in which a woman convinces an unjust judge to render a just decision on her behalf. The author of the story includes the interesting (and maybe more than a little puzzling) detail describing the judge’s decision as being based on the fact that she just kept on “bothering” him. You got to hand it to her. She never gave up – and good things happened.
Believing that good things take time, that persistence “pays off”, is much easier to embrace when it comes to the concrete things of everyday life. We get the degree. We learn the instrument. We win the game. We paint the picture. We get the girl (or guy). In other words, when it comes to certain things in life, we can see the fruits clearly, see the actual results of our persistence. And this can encourage us even more.
But faith really isn’t like that. We don’t see as God sees. We don’t understand as God understands. We don’t see the whole picture. And we don’t ever really know exactly “what caused what”, we don’t always understand exactly how our persistence in our spiritual life has actually made a difference – in our lives or in others.
But we pray anyway. We give anyway. We trust anyway. We forgive anyway. We hope anyway. And we love anyway – with a deep sense that, it is the right thing to do, the best thing to do, the only thing we can do if we want to remain faithful.
And maybe most importantly, we don’t give up, whether we can clearly see the fruits or not, whether we know precisely what God is “up to” or not, whether things turn out the way we want or not. Those things ultimately aren’t important. Staying with it is. Staying on the path is. Staying in conversation with our loving God is.
And you know what? The amazing this is, good things will happen.
It just takes time.