Waiting is an experience that is probably as disliked as it is common to our shared human story. As I sit here several months into my third medical school application cycle wondering when (or if) an acceptance letter might finally make its way into my inbox, I admit that this particular season of waiting has left me feeling pretty defeated.
Whether waiting for a promotion, the right partner to come along, a university acceptance, or even just the bus home after a long day of work, we have all been in the position of awaiting some sort of change for longer than we would like. If you happen to find yourself in a similar position, I encourage you to take heart in the fact that you are far from alone in your struggle. Here are three saints whose examples we can look toward for a sense of reassurance when life’s detours and delays get the best of us:
1. Saint Monica
As the patron saint of patience and perseverance, Saint Monica is a wonderful example of what it means to make the most of a season of waiting. Monica was born into a Christian family in the North of Africa but was later given in marriage to an ill-tempered pagan man who refused to baptize their three children, the most famous of whom being the great Saint Augustine of Hippo. Witnessing the teenage, pre-conversion Augustine veer on a path of life that was, well, pretty much the opposite of that which Christ calls us to live only made a worried mother’s situation all the more challenging.
However, Monica was no stranger to trusting in the Lord, and she continued to pray fervently asking God to come into the hearts of her family members. Finally, after many years of her perseverance in prayer, Monica’s husband decided to get baptized and accept Christ just a year before his death. As for her son Augustine, he went on to study the Christian faith under Saint Ambrose, was soon baptized, and became a formative Doctor of the Church who produced brilliant theological writings like “Confessions.”
Saint Monica’s example encourages me to keep the faith and persist in prayer even when the changes I desire take longer to come to fruition than I might like them to. This devoted wife and mother reminds me that prayer not only works, but it works in God’s perfect timing. While I might prefer immediate answers to my prayers, it is through waiting in faith as Monica did that I learn to trust in God and surrender my life to his will. Ultimately, the story of Saint Monica attests that even when hope might seem lost, God’s perfect plans are at work around us, silent and subtle as they may be.
2. Saint Paul
The standard that early Christian evangelist Saint Paul set for us when it comes to embracing happiness, holiness, and productivity during an especially difficult season of waiting is second to none. How is it that Saint Paul was able to write what is known as the most joyful book of the Bible, The Letter to the Philippians, while he was in prison? How did he find the strength and compassion not to despise, but instead to share the Gospel and convert many of the Roman soldiers responsible for keeping him in bondage?
This great evangelist’s example has taught me personally that remaining joyful in my season of waiting is not just a preferable emotional state, but rather an active display of my faith in God, especially when things don’t go my way. One of the beautiful things I have noticed about this sort of “active joy” is that it can be contagious — it can actually inspire the faith of those around you! In adopting a mindset like Saint Paul’s, I can begin to see life’s trying times as opportunities to grow closer to God and glorify him in new ways that can profoundly impact those around me, just as Paul did for the Roman soldiers who persecuted him.
Although we might not necessarily end up writing the next great epistle of the New Testament, our unique seasons of waiting might just be blessings in disguise that call us to be instruments of God’s love in ways we never would have imagined possible. For me, this meant taking advantage of the extra time that my season of waiting afforded me to share the Gospel message with others through my writing. Like Paul, I can treat these times as opportunities to serve those whom I encounter along the detours. If everything had worked out the way I originally intended, I very well might have missed a chance to bring Christ’s message to someone in need of it. In a sense, the life of Saint Paul tells me simply to embrace the detour!
3. Saint Photina
A lesser-known saint by name, you might recall Saint Photina as “the woman at the well.” As discussed in chapter four of the Gospel of John, this Samaritan woman encounters Jesus at a well where he asks her for a drink of water and goes on to reveal his knowledge of the woman’s five previous marriages. With divorce highly stigmatized during that time, it is safe to assume that Photina was something of the “talk of the town” and was feeling pretty defeated between her tarnished reputation and lengthy history of failed relationships. Still, Christ sought out Photina in spite of her feelings of unworthiness in order to offer her the water of eternal life. The transformation that Jesus brought about within Photina was clear in the way she returned to the very town that ridiculed her and eagerly proclaimed the Gospel message for all to hear.
In a sense, Photina’s season of waiting could be considered her yearning for a better life amidst her slew of repeated misfortunes – something that we can probably all relate to in some capacity. Having received upwards of 50 rejection letters from medical schools over the course of three years, I can certainly appreciate Photina’s need for comfort and clarity. Thankfully, her story teaches us that regardless of how unwanted, unworthy, or defeated we are left feeling in our waiting, Christ still pursues us. Much like the Samaritan woman must have felt after her five failed marriages, we sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that we are too far gone to be redeemed, whether in the context of our present struggles or in the broader spiritual sense. However, Saint Photina is one of the many biblical figures who proves to us that when it comes to Jesus, there is no such thing as too far gone.
Christ’s conversation with the woman at the well reminds me that he is the one to whom I should look for true peace and comfort. My worth is not measured by my acceptance to any university, but instead by the image of Christ crucified. Even when all else fails, I am loved beyond measure by an ever-victorious King.
Feeling discouraged during any season of waiting reminds us that we are only human, but we must remember that God calls us to “walk by the Spirit” and not by the flesh (Gal 5:16). In doing so, we can offer up our disappointments, anxieties, fears, and frustrations to Christ who is never blind to our struggles. May we learn to embrace each of life’s seasons with the patience and perseverance of Saint Monica, the joy of Saint Paul, and the courage of Saint Photina.