I probably first encountered this prayer as a teenager. Much later, I learned that its words were found on a card in her breviary after her death, thus the title.
As a teen, I knew very little about Teresa of Avila’s difficult life (1515-1582). As a zealous reformer of the Carmelite Order and as a strong-minded woman in a male-dominated society, she experienced vigorous opposition, even being investigated for heresy.
Canonized in 1622, she was given the title “Doctor of the Church” in 1970. How did she move from possible heretic to Doctor of the Church?
Her story explains the honors she received eventually. Teresa was born in Avila, Spain, amid profound changes in Europe and around the world. After more than 10 years as a rather pampered nun, Teresa experienced a conversion that changed her life radically. God is indeed unchanging, but we change in our ability to appreciate God’s ways and God’s values.
The mature Teresa saw God more completely than the adolescent Teresa did. The mature Teresa probably composed this prayer as a praise of God and a reminder to herself of God’s providence. As I have experienced the ups and downs of life, this prayer has become more important to me.
Almost everyone I know, including myself, would like to be more patient. The sin of impatience has been part of many confessions that I have heard in the last 29 years.
Unfortunately, we often desire to be more patient on our terms rather than on God’s terms. Although we are not happy with our results, we resist changing our approach. At least I have.
Teresa almost certainly realized that the word patience comes from a Latin verb meaning “to suffer.” Patient people have suffered in the sense that things were not always done on their timetable or the way they would have done them. No one is born patient.
Although patient women and men do not automatically avoid conflict, they pick their battles wisely. They ask themselves: “From God’s viewpoint, just how important is this issue? Is my resistance simply a question of ego?” If we want to become more patient, we need to ask questions like these and keep acting on our honest answers.
Patient people know what is really important in their life, and they reaffirm those choices through countless daily decisions.
Many people (including me) have assumed that praying should always be a serene experience. Union with God, the fruit of honest prayer, is serene, but the journey there is often bumpy. For our prayers to be honest, all of us may have to face facts that we prefer avoiding.
Honest prayer trims egos a bit because we admit that we have blind spots and that our response to God’s grace is sometimes not as generous as it needs to be. In that perspective, God is indeed enough.
Over the years, I have grown to appreciate Teresa’s prayer, partly because of its similarity to Julian of Norwich’s famous prayer: “All shall be well, and all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”
Teresa’s bookmark also reminds me of Habakkuk 3:17-18: “For though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines,/Though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment,/Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,/Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God.”
All three prayers are true and remind us of heaven where “God alone suffices.”
Next month: Prayer After the Rosary