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Struggling with impatience… What can I do?

April 5, 2010 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Virtue

Dear Father John, I have been working on my spiritual life for a long time. But no matter how much I work on it, I find myself falling into impatience again and again. I try and try, but can’t seem to be patient. What am I doing wrong?

You will not like the answer to this question, but I will try to answer it anyway. There are two things you may be doing wrong – or you may be doing both of them.

Going to the Root

First, you may be chopping off the visible stems of this weed in the garden of your soul, without digging up the roots. We all have a unique combination of selfish tendencies, and they express themselves in a unique combination of manifestations. Just like a big weed with a lot of stems and branches. We have all had the experience of pulling up weeds. We know that if you don’t get the root out, the weed will just grow right up again. From your question, it seems that you tend to consider impatience to be the root of your selfishness. Chances are, that is not the case. Impatience is one of the many offspring of the capital sin of pride, which is a disordered attachment to one’s own excellence. You get impatient because deep down you have a strong tendency to think you are so smart, sharp, and gifted that you should be able to manage yourself and all the circumstances around you with perfect elegance. (I told you that you weren’t going to like this answer.) Therefore, you will never be able to overcome your impatient patterns of behavior simply by ordering yourself to become more patient. You will have tiny flashes of patience if you follow that strategy, but that’s it. What you really need to do is work positively on growing in the virtue of humility. Humility will strike at your impatience where it is rooted.

How do you grow in humility?

  1. Ask for the grace, first of all, every day.
  2. Secondly, continue your determined commitment to mental prayer, meditating on the life and words of Jesus, who is the perfect model of humility.
  3. Thirdly, increase your conscientious use of the sacraments of confession and Communion.
  4. Finally, never let a day go by without making AT LEAST one small, HIDDEN act of self-denial, e.g. purposely eating another helping of something you don’t like, purposely not turning on the radio for the first five minutes of your commute, purposely not responding to someone who unfairly criticizes you…

Great Expectations

In the second place, your expectations may be wrong. Growth in any virtue does not follow a Hollywoodian schedule. In Hollywood, you can go from chump to champion in just two hours, like Peter Parker or Rocky Balboa. In real life, growth in holiness and virtue takes a long time and happens gradually. This is why Jesus always used parables of seeds and growing things. If we sit and watch a seed grow, nothing seems to happen. But in fact, a lot is happening, if the parameters for growth (soil, water, sunlight) are present. In our spiritual lives, we too often want to see the fully matured fruit right now. Well, the fully matured fruit will not be seen this side of eternity. Sorry, that’s just the way it is! As the Book of Job puts it, in the first verse of Chapter 7: “Does not man have hard service on earth? Are not his days like those of a hired man?”

Frustration is almost always a function of expectations. If you have been working seriously on becoming a more patient person, following the example of Christ more closely, I can guarantee that you are more patient today than you were five years ago. Guaranteed. I would bet my life on it. So don’t let the devil trick you into being frustrated with gradually becoming more and more patient, just because you aren’t perfect yet. Instead, every time you fall, just brush yourself off, look up to heaven, and say, “You see what a pile of dust and ashes I am, Lord? Thanks for putting up with me. I know you’ll never give up on me; help me never to give up on you.”

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Guest

    Now Father John, I no longer know what to believeIIIII. This time, once again, you write like you know me personally. That you have, in fact been my Confessor!!!!The answer you have given to your questioner is what I have been aware of and have been struggling with, with God’s Grace to uproot. It has been the stumbling block where keep on falling again and again. This Cardinal Sin of Pride stubbornly embeded my heart and soul. Having known this is the real cause of all my venial and moral sins – that is, they are just the branches of the real vile plant, I pray every day to Jesus before the Blessed Sacrament to grant me the Grace of total Humility. The only Virtue which uproot this Cardinal Sin or make it impotent. Humility will help me to receive God’s Grace and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit in my soul when it becomes an acceptable habitat for Him. But I thank God each time I present myself to Jesus in the Confessional and pour out my misery caused by this Cardian Sin and as I confess its derivatives and each time He forgives me and encourages me not to give up because He is fighting with me. Every day, I sit before Him at the Blesses Sacrament and plead with all my heart for that He grants this Virtue and I repeat the same prayer when He is with me, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity when I receive Him in th Eucharist. A Capital Sin which has been residing in our souls and hears for a lifetime cannot be uprooted in a short time. I belikeve, it requires unceasing prayers, mortifictions and patience. But God’s promise that He will win for us gives me peace of mind that slowly by slowly, as I perservere in being on the lookout for the tricks and the hidden routes it uses to strip me. I shall overcome.

    Thank You, God, for our Catholic Faith. Thank you God, for Your Divine Love with which you sent Your Son to come and die for us so that we may be reconciled with You once again.

    Thank You for the Sacrament of Reconciliation where Jesus receives us with Love and divine compassion and forgives us our sins and bestows on us unfathomable Graces to strengthen us to resist daily temptations. And, more lovingly, Thank You God for the Sacrament of the Eucharist, where Your own Son is our Food for the journery to our Eternal Home which He purchased for us at such a costly pain and death to Himself. Each time I receive the Eucharist, I look forward to the day, with the Grace from this Scarament when I shall stand before You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, clothed in Santifying Grace and hear Your welcome into Your Abode, there to adore, love and glorify You for Eternity with all the Angels and Saints in Heaven.

    On Holy Mary Mother of God and our Mother, walk with us on this trecherous route assisting us all the way. Saint Faustina and Venerable Pope John Paul II and the Servant of God, Cardinal Maurice Cardinal Otunga, accompany us with your prayers so that we shall not tire on the way but when we fall, may your prayers and our penances lift us up immediately and we continue on our journeyand finally, finally, to find you waiting for us at the Gate of Heaven with all our departed loved ones. Happy Easter, Father John and all of us on this Website.
    As you advise your questioner, we cannot uproot this vile

  • Angela

    Thank you! Thank you! Fr John — you are such a blessing and your words are so true. This blog is a gift to all who read it. You say the truth, even when it is hard to say (and hear) but you do it with such love — toward we sinners and toward God that it is easy to accept. Your true love for souls shines through with each post. I feel so blessed and guided by your fatherly care.

    Easter blessings to you, Dan, and all who help with this great spiritual source.

  • Donald

    Fr. John: I’ve been reading your e-post posts for several months and I usually always find some question that puts into words what I’ve felt and your answer’s are a real blessing to me. With that said, I believe your response to ‘impatience’ is what I need to hear. Thank you and God bless you in your work.

  • kathleen52

    CSD Friends,

    Thank you to the person who asked the question and to Father John for the inspirational answer. I received this message at the most impatient part of my day … yesterday. I loved the answer … root of pride and the time it takes for growth in holiness and virtue.

    God is so good. He knew I needed this message … and sent it at the moment I needed to hear it. I continue to pray the Litany of Humility daily and will practice the “purposely not” suggestion.

    Thank you for the gift of this website and all of the wonderful information that is communicated through it. God bless Father John, Staff, and Visitors at Catholic Spiritual Direction.

    Gratefully,
    Kathleen

  • Ana

    Thank You God, for the instruments You have chosen to share Your light in my soul. Thank You for technology, and the great use given to it on this blog.
    Father John, I thank You with my prayers. May you be a Holy Priest, always!

  • luannemalkasian

    What a wonderful response. It touched me in a number of ways and pointed out ways thatI can strengthen my spirituality. I too struggle with sefishness. Thank You Fr. Bartunek. Oh, my daughter calls me a Bartunek Groupie. Yeah for me!

  • luannemalkasian

    Thank You Fr. Bartunek. I struggle with pride and selfishness daily. Now that my husband is saying a long goodbye with dementia I struggle harder.
    I fall and I get up and try, with prayer, to do better. Your response to your questioner touched on a particular problem I have. I do often feel that I should be able to handle all circumstances. I should have learned 20 years ago when our daughter died of Leukemia that only God handles all circumstances. But pride dies hard. And so I will work and prayer harder. Oh yes, my daughter calls me a Bartunek Groupie.

    • Cathy

      I am praying for you, and will offer up a very tough challenge on Saturday. Know that He is awesome, and He will give yopu all the strength you need. He is right there beside you. Fr. Bartunek is a wonderful priest who puts things in easy to understand, but does not sugar coaat things. I know because I have been called the same. I have almost all the books he has written.

  • Cathy

    This was perfect!! Patience is difficult to manage. Humility is even more difficult. The one thing that helps is to think of Jesus’ crucifixion. He came for us, He suffered for us, He hung on a cross for us. He NEVER said anything negative, and prayed for those who were crucifying Him. The agony He went through still was not enough for us, because He also gave us His mother too. I think about that often, and that keeps me in check. May He bless you always, and strenghten you.

    • luannemalkasian

      Thank you, Cathy. I have been reaching out to find just the understanding and support that you gave. What is a challenge?

      • Cathy

        I am so sorry that it took so long for me to respond. My challenge is my health. I spend my Saturdays in the church, cleaning and setting up for sacraments and celebrations. My health has recently taken a turn for the worse, and that makes my job very difficult. I offer that up for you, and pray that we can all find patience and humility in our hearts. May He hold you in the palm of His hand, near His merciful heart, now and always

        • luannemalkasian

          Cathy, God Bless You. Since posting my note I have received responses that fill my heart. I am a Eucharistic Minister in my parish and part of the Bereavement Comm. These mmoments so close to God have changed my spiritual life. I have gone back to reading Fr. Bartunek’s Better Part and praying in my Christian Prayerbook daily because of the support I have received from you and others. 
          I will remember you in my prayers. Thank you, Cathy. Luanne
           

          ________________________________

  • Valerie

    Yes, self-mortification, that continues after Lent and throughout our lives, is what the saints all say leads to the holiness this questioner, and all of us who are seeking Jesus, especially in these days of ‘Self as King’. Thank you for the honest and powerful insights.

  • Cathy

    I have come to know that impatience, humility, and pride all go hand in hand. I have prayed about this, and I got an answer. I have started a few different things, and my way of thinking has changed. It is amazing!! I never receive the Eucharist unless I am on my knees (only if I am able, due to health). I will also kneel during the consecration, and when the Body and Blood of Christ mingle during that most precious part of the Mass. I also make it a point to lay face down on the floor before the crucifix and the tabernacle. I have been doing this for only about three weeks, and I have noticed changes in my thinking, my attitude, and my life. He came to serve, and to save. I am trying to be like Him, but not in my time, but His.

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