By: Colin Murphy
“If you ask God for patience. You are asking God for suffering.” Fr. Nathan Goebel offered this insight on a recent episode of the excellent Catholic Stuff You Should Know podcast. It caught me by surprise, but after reflecting on it I was convinced it was true. Our lives contain so many opportunities for suffering, and patience calls us to bear those sufferings well, with hope and joy.
Today we face a huge obstacle to patience: our phones. Attachment to smartphones prevents us from growing in patience because our phones are set up to comfort and pacify us. They offer an escape from suffering. How can we practice patience well when we carry the internet around in our pockets?
Before devising how to be patient in the age of perpetual internet connection, we must understand what patience is. The overused phrase, “patience is a virtue,” is undeniably true but doesn’t tell us what patience actually means.
When I think about the times I’ve heard people say, “patience is a virtue,” it is usually in response to some annoyance, like having to control a small child or wait in line at the DMV. While we may associate patience with annoyances, the virtue is principally concerned with how we respond to the quiet, awful sufferings that each of us carries around, too often in secret. In the aforementioned podcast, Fr. Goebel defined patience as, “the virtue by which a man bears up against the evils that tend to make him sad and break his spirit.” In fact, the word patience comes from the Latin pacio – to suffer.
By nature of our being human, suffering is never far from us. We are accustomed to failure and rejection, sin and death, our own weaknesses and those of others. Loneliness, anxiety, depression and illness do not discriminate based on material wealth. We are all subject to them.
Suffering is hard to deal with. Often, instead of confronting our pain we look for a way to escape or distract ourselves from it. When I am busy, I do not have time or space to think about my problems, but as soon as I have a quiet moment by myself, I am confronted by doubt. Christ calls us to carry our crosses with him, but the devil knows that we don’t want the cross, and he offers us a way out. Today, that way out is more accessible than ever before.
Our constant connection to cyberspace through our phones prevents us from dealing with the things that make us sad. In fact, using social media can make us sadder.
Social media and dating apps incentivize impatience. They promise a quick fix – instant connection – but almost never deliver on that promise. Using them can make us feel lonelier and more isolated. We are not expected to go it alone – to patiently bear suffering requires the support of friends – but our grasping for connection online can keep us from growing in relationships with those people who can help us in our real lives.
We cannot allow our phones to enslave us and lead us to impatience. If our default reaction in moments of boredom, confusion, or awkwardness is to pull out our phones, we will have trouble building good relationships. If you’re feeling lonely, don’t automatically start scrolling through Facebook or Instagram. Instead, call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while and catch up. If you’re in a waiting room or at the bus stop, say a prayer instead of checking twitter for the 10th time. If you’re in an awkward or difficult conversation, stay in it. These are the moments that bring us closer together and closer to God.
Above all, we must love God even in suffering. St. Thomas says, “Patience is possible only when the soul loves something good with a love strong enough to make it bear up against oppressing evils.” The best part is that patience bears fruit by its action! Choosing to face our suffering with hope and joy will bring us peace and confidence – things that social media could never give us.
Jesus was able to suffer with patience because of his Love for the Father and his love for us. He knew that his patience would bear fruit in our salvation. We are called to the same thing, and we must do it, even if it means turning off our phones.