One of the things I have discovered in my twenty years of religious life is this — all of the means we have at our disposal for working out our salvation are imperfect.
We live with a conviction — sometime fleeting, sometimes certain — that God is calling us to transformation, and that our transformation is for the purpose of helping to bring about the Reign of God on earth. But the thing that always gets me is that I have no idea what that looks like. Neither what a transformed me looks like, nor what the coming Reign might look like. Neither of these things are quite mine to know. But trusting that it is so is one of the chief criteria of faith. And, as I trustingly give myself over to the process of becoming what it is God intends for me, patience is key! And it is nearly impossible.
I trust for certain that God calls us to community as a means of entering into this process of becoming. That community is the Church, and in my case is also the Brotherhood that I belong to. And in some cases, a variety of other communities fill the role of helping me to enter into the process of becoming. All of these institutions are both wildly imperfect, made up as they are of human beings, and also deeply grace-filled opportunities for me to lay aside my own selfish preoccupations. First by discovering them, and then by letting them go to some higher purpose. And the frustrating bit is that I, often, don’t know what that higher purpose might be.
When I am asked to grow and change, when the pain of that process begins, it can feel disheartening when I feel as though I don’t know what the end game looks like. Because, as you may have guessed by now, the outcome is out of my hands. We know that outcomes are in God’s hands.
The life of faith is one that requires sacrifice and patience. It requires trust. I can look to history and tradition for some reassurance that the choice to enter this life of redemption and faith is worthwhile, but the truth is that history and tradition — in the overall scheme of things — are short view realities rather than long view glimpses into the coming of God’s reign. And the trick is to trust that when change becomes painful.
There are always temptations to believe that the communities I belong to, the Church, the denomination or the parish, the Brotherhood, my marriage — all of these are at fault for the pain I experience. That a new community or parish or relationship may be better. Or even that none would be better. But this is ultimately false. I am always going to be imperfect wherever I go, and impatient. And any community will be equally made up of imperfect people, imperfect processes, and short view hiccups that seem to interfere with whatever long view end game I may have in mind. it is the nature of humans and our systems that it will ever be thus. And it is in my nature to always think that the end game I have in mind is better, more perfect, less painful to get to than what reality has in store.
On the other hand, communities one and all are grace-filled moments where I may discover myself in ways that I never would have had I chosen to remain apart. This is exactly the same way that I discover my deepest self in my relationship with my spouse. I am challenged to make space for others, for myself. I am challenged to make space for beauty and for imperfection. I am challenged to make room for good choices and poor ones. And in the process of making space, God transforms me, redeems me, saves me — for some as yet unknown purpose that is bigger than myself. And which remains unknown, and will remain unknown until that glorious Kingdom comes.
The practice of patience is painful. It requires unknowing what I think I know, making room for the as yet unknown to find a space to grow, and even unbecoming who I am so that I may become what I am supposed to be for God’s purpose.
For now, I trust that God holds me in the palm of God’s own hand. Whatever may come of my own desires, my own projections, my own growing pains — I trust that someday that holy Reign will come and that I will have done what God intended for me…as long as I remain patient and run the race.