Many people have told me to be careful when praying for patience, because God will always answer us by giving us opportunities to be patient. I have certainly found that to be true in the past, but I am starting to see that it is actually true for any virtue that we pray for.
Every morning, I try to remember to ask God to help me to spread His love wherever I go, but I recently realized I have been doing a pretty bad job of carrying that prayer with me through the day.
Last week, I had one particularly busy day, where I had two stories to cover in the morning and a lot of writing to get done in the afternoon, before leaving on an early flight to go out of town the next day. I was rushing to get a quick lunch after my second assignment was over, and I walked by a man sitting outside of the store asking for money. I think I glanced at him with a small smile, and then I kept rushing to buy my $11 salad and head back to the office.
Later that day, after I had stayed in the office slightly later than usual, I was in a hurry to get home. As I was driving, there was a detour in the middle of my commute, which naturally irritated me. As I made my way down side streets to reroute, I passed a man who was sitting next to his motorcycle on the side of the road, pretty obviously stuck. He didn’t look hurt, so maybe his motorcycle was broken down. I don’t really know, because I did not stop to ask.
As I made my way closer to home and stopped at a stoplight, I saw a message from my husband asking me to get milk on my way. I started wondering, “why do you need milk right now?” (He had started cooking dinner for us) and “why didn’t you get it on your way home? (He didn’t know we needed it yet) But, feeling self-righteous, I decided I would stop and get it despite my (unjustified) annoyance.
When I made it into Giant and power-walked my way straight to the back where the milk is kept, I opened the refrigerator door and grabbed my carton of milk. After doing so, I noticed that there was an older lady next to me who had been having a hard time reaching the milk that she wanted, and had patiently been standing there, reaching and reaching to get it.
I asked her if she needed help, and reached up to get the milk. When I handed the milk carton to her, she said “God bless you!” and gently placed it in her cart. Helping her took about 30 seconds.
In that one moment when I was finally attuned to the needs of the person next to me, all the other missed opportunities to love others from that day came flooding back to me. I realized how terrible I had been at living out Pope Francis’s call to encounter the people around me, and how much I had been placing productivity and efficiency ahead of loving the individuals around me.
Sometimes I grow frustrated about not hearing God answer my prayers, but maybe I have been looking for answers in the wrong places. Maybe the answers to my prayers are not in clarity to a huge life decision or in a superpower that makes me love automatically, but rather in God giving me opportunities to do exactly what I had been praying to do: love the people who He places in my path.