Patience has never been my strong suit. Waiting can feel agonizingly prolonged and sometimes pointless. Often, the effort to be patient is accompanied by varying degrees of suffering - whether it comes from awaiting a currently unattainable good, living through a painful situation, or any number of other reasons. In the last couple of years, I've begun to question more deeply what patience is, realizing that it must be more than white-knuckled endurance.
One day, while crawling along in traffic, I considered what God might be offering me in that moment. Taking in my surroundings with this question in mind, I noticed some flowers growing on the median. The small buds waved gently in the breeze, and as I enjoyed the simple moment of beauty and serenity, I had a realization.
Perhaps part of practicing patience is engaging in the present moment, being open to and looking for whatever it is that God has in it for us. He gives us so much that we often overlook. Had I settled for stewing inwardly over the traffic, I could easily have missed this valuable life lesson, which I've found also applies to periods of waiting and suffering on a larger scale.
This is not to say we ought to shut our eyes and ignore what is painful to us. Rather, we can take comfort in the fact that even in the midst of challenging situations, there is always something for us. Christ gives meaning to our suffering, and showed us in his Passion and death that He can bring good out of the worst situations. Moreover, as Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical "Saved in Hope," "Man is worth so much to God that He Himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us."
We are not alone. We are not abandoned in our suffering, whether great or small.
As imitators of Christ, we also are called to share compassionately in the suffering of others and share Jesus' love with them. Pope Francis recently addressed the Association of Italian Doctors and spoke to them about the nature of authentic compassion.
The dominant thinking sometimes suggests a 'false compassion,' that which believes that it is helpful to women to promote abortion; an act of dignity to obtain euthanasia; a scientific breakthrough to 'produce' a child and to consider it to be a right rather than a gift to welcome; or to use human lives as guinea pigs presumably to save others. Instead, the compassion of the Gospel is that which accompanies in times of need, that is, the compassion of the Good Samaritan, who "sees," "has compassion," approaches and provides concrete help (cf. Lk 10:33).
When we choose to engage actively in the present moment and appreciate God's gift of life, we open the door to a deeper relationship with Christ. This awareness and friendship with Jesus can open our eyes to how He may be inviting us to accompany others in their suffering and show them His love. As we continue our pilgrimage on earth together, let us hold fast to God, who is the source of all true compassion.
Anne McGuire is assistant director of education and outreach for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.