We Should Have Patience With Those Who Come To Us For Help

We Should Have Patience With Those Who Come To Us For Help May 11, 2022

Archibald Tuttle: St John the Dwarf / Wikimedia Commons

People dealing with difficult situations often find themselves going to the same people, time and time, again, asking the same kinds of questions, and getting the same kinds of responses. They might fear they are wasting everyone’s time in doing so. But they are not. The more they hear the responses they need, the more they can be and are helped by them. Sometimes, we just need to hear things enough times to fully appreciate or understand what we are being told. The more we hear the same thing stated, the more likely it will stick.  This is why people, when giving speeches, are encouraged to repeat themselves several times in their speech, for it helps their audience to remember their point but also to accept it if they properly make their case.

What is important is that if we find ourselves asking the same questions, time and time again, going to the same people, asking for their help, we should not feel bad for doing so, nor should we despair, thinking it means we are not taking what we are told seriously. We must not think badly of ourselves if we are truly seeking solutions for our problems, and we keep going to the same people, asking them for their help. Likewise, if we are on the receiving end of such questions, we should deal with them with as much care and concern as is needed, never getting upset if people return to us, over and over again, asking us the same questions as before. We should be patient with them, for it is only with such patience that our love for them is proven, and through that love, through that patience, our wisdom, our advice, can slowly take effect and transform the person who comes to us for help. Neither the inquirer nor the person who responds, therefore, should get upset. The person who asks such questions should not be embarrassed that they keep asking the same question, because in reality, though the question is the same, their understanding of what they are told will change over time. Abba John the Dwarf, understanding this, was able to help another monk, because of the patience and love he showed to that monk:

There was an old man at Scetis, very austere of body, but not very clear in his thoughts.  He went to see Abba John to ask him about forgetfulness.  Having received a word from him, he returned to his cell and forgot what Abba John had said to him.  He went off again to ask him and having heard the same word from him, he returned with it.  As he got near his cell, he forgot it again.  This he did many times; he went there, but while he was returning he was overcome by forgetfulness.  Later, meeting the old man he said to him, ‘Do you know, Abba, that I have forgotten again what you said to me?  But I did not want to overburden you, so I did not come back.’  Abba John said to him, ‘Go and light a lamp.’ He lit it.  He said to him, ‘Bring some more lamps, and light them from the first.’ He did so.  Then Abba John said to the old man, ‘Has that lamp suffered any loss from the fact that other lamps have been lit from it?’  He said, ‘No.’ The old man continued, ‘So it is with John; even if the whole of Scetis came to see me, they would not separate me from the love of Christ.  Consequently, whenever you want to, come to me without hesitation.’  So, thanks to the endurance of these two men, God took forgetfulness away from the old man.  Such was the work of the monks of Scetis; they inspire fervour in those who are in the conflict and do violence to themselves to win others to do good.[1]

John had to deal with a monk who had memory issues, but even then, he understood, every time he answered the monk, he was slowly helping the monk, for the monk was slowly learning what he was being told. John understood that his wisdom was like a lighted lamp, and he was sharing that light to someone in need. He knew that if he used his lamp to light someone else’s lamp, if the other person’s lamp went out, he could easily light it again without having his own light become diminished, and so he should not feel as if he were harmed in any way for having to do so. Thus, every time the monk came to him, John told him what he needed to know, rekindling the monk’s own lamp several times, until at last, his advice was remembered and the monk’s lamp stayed lit.  John understood, therefore, what Jesus meant when Jesus said not to hide his light under a bushel (cf. Matt. 5:15-16). For it was by welcoming the old man, by showing him love and care, by dealing with the old monk with patience, John’s own light shined. If he had lost patience with the old man, he would have found, not only would the old man not be helped as he should, but he would have found his own light would have been diminished, if not actually gone out. For, just as when we cover a flame, the flame will not have the oxygen it needs and so it will die, so when we cover or hide our spiritual light, our own inner flame, we risk it going out, as we cut it off from what it needs to continue to shine on.

We, of course, have many things which can get in the way with our dealing with others; many of us can be and are impatient. We might not like to repeat ourselves, thinking that if we have to do so, we will not get a different result from when we previously said or did the same thing. But we must keep in mind that we often learn through repetition, and so such repetition, far from being insanity, can often be the most productive thing we can do. We memorize things by repetition, even as we get better at skilled work, by doing the same work over and over again. We might not notice the change immediately, but given time, we will, just as John the Dwarf eventually saw the old monk who came to him slowly remember what he was told and engage the advice he had been given. John’s patience, John’s love, was effective; thankfully, he did not give up when he saw the old man constantly returning to him, saying that he had forgotten what he had been told. If we care for someone, if we love them, we will take the time needed to help them; if we do not, then we risk changing ourselves, becoming, not better, but worse, risking our own spiritual lamp, fueled by love, becoming diminished or snuffed out due to our impatience.

[1] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 89-80 [Saying of Abba John the Dwarf 18].

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