The Slowness of Grace

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This is a reprint from November of 2006. I’m not trying to be lazy here – but to bring out some things that I think worth reading twice. 

From Prayer by the Elder Sophrony

At times prayer seems over-slow in bringing results, and life is so short. Instinctively we cry, “Make haste unto me.” But He does not always respond at once. Like fruit on a tree , our soul is left to scorch in the sun, to endure the cold wind, the scorching wind, to die of thirst or be drowned in the rain. but if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, all will end well.

 We live in a culture of fast food, and tend to want grace to operate on the same speed track. Some versions of Christianity make grace as “quick” as walking the aisle. This, of course, is misleading.

In my experience, grace works on a level that is proper to human beings with some notable exceptions (but even then one can wonder). Grace takes time because we are not built on a fast track. Human beings don’t wean until about 2 1/2 years, properly (women you may correct me). We take 9 months of gestation, and we do not reach puberty for 13 years, traditionally. We are not instant people.

Neither does grace work on such an instant level (or is not at least noticeable on such an instant level). We should know that to be a human requires years for some things, including things pertaining to God.

I am comforted, that, unlike physicists, theologians do not reach their best work until near retirement age. I’m waiting for my maturity!

But each of us would do well to slow down our expections and speed up our efforts of prayer. Pray more, but wait on God. This lesson of patience is not something God does to us to torture us, but is something He does to bring us back into line with our humanity. Let patience have her perfect work (James 1:4).

19 Responses to “The Slowness of Grace”

  1. Richard Collins Says:

    Father,

    Wisdom as ever.

    However children ‘wean’ a lot earlier than 2.5 years – they start around 4+ months and are free to eat most foods by 1 year (such as cows milk and honey). Of course they need help for longer than that (I’m still cutting up my 2.5 year olds food) but ‘weaning’ properly refers to transfering from breast milk/bottle milk to other foods.

    I think that a lot of the ‘Purpose Driven’ model is tied into this ‘instant holiness’ philosophy, but tends to produce rapid ‘growth’ without a strong root system. Like the parable of the sower, shallow soil=weak plant.

  2. fatherstephen Says:

    Richard, as the husband of a woman who weaned 4 children – I might have remembered incorrectly. but what I saw was not 4 months. By weaning I meant, no longer nursing. It was certainly around age 2 that nursing ceased. But we were hard core La Leche league sorts.

  3. Richard Collins Says:

    Yes, of course one can continue breast feeding up to that age, but I’ve never seen a child of 2+ exclusively breast fed…

    Most parents here in the UK follow the plan I described above (at least we have, and most of my patients have too!).

    Anyhow, your point is very well made about humans ‘taking time’ to develop. It’s amazing that the animals become so independant so quickly (for example walking at birth).

  4. Pseudo-Polymath » Blog Archive » Morning Midday Highlights Says:

    […] Grace and timescales at Glory to God for All Things. […]

  5. Margaret Says:

    A reminder to be patient NEVER hurts! Thank you, Fr. Stephen for reposting this piece.

  6. Raven Says:

    This reminder came at just the right time for me!

  7. Christina Says:

    Came upon this “discussion” while Googling the phrase, “Glory to God for all things!” (in order to see if I could find a formal “response” of some sort for this exclamation – as I am relatively new to Holy Orthodoxy and wanted to know if a response to that phrase is expected). Anyway, this is what I found, and if I may leap into matters I know nothing about, I’d like to comment on Richard’s remarks, “I think that a lot of the ‘Purpose Driven’ model is tied into this ‘instant holiness’ philosophy, but tends to produce rapid ‘growth’ without a strong root system. Like the parable of the sower, shallow soil=weak plant.” I’d just like to confirm that this has been my exact experience.

    From my first Orthodox Service 7 years ago, when asked what I thought of it, instead of giving a one word glib reply, I searched for words to express meaningfully what it was that I experienced – and it was precisely what Richard describes here. If I correctly remember my words, they were, “For the first time, I feel like I’m putting down roots.” I may have added a few comments to contrast the root-putting with the “emotional high” experiences with which I’d been most familiar for all of my life previously. (The Orthodox person who posed the question was from my same background originally, and so understood entirely what it was I was saying.) In that regard, Richard describes my former experiences even better than I did, myself! (Thank-you for that, Richard. It’s a help to me in my sometimes bewildering journey through Holy Orthodoxy.)

    And Fr. Stephen, in the same way your whole article is a help and a blessing. To echo Raven, this reminder came at just the right time for me, also. Indeed you are correct in your thinking “to bring out some things” that “are worth reading twice” – or in my case, once, as this is the first time for me.

    Interestingly, the book from which you quote is one of the first, if not “the” first, Orthodox book I read as a Catechumen. Even if I hadn’t forgotten about this passage (which I had), your observations shed more light on it for me. The entire “package” is very reassuring and encouraging for me along this Orthodox path. Thank-you to you and to all who posted here…!

  8. neil Says:

    Thank you Father. This article makes a lot of sense to me and the comments ring true, as well. I think what a lot of us postmodern, former Protestants are looking for is not just a Christian community that has roots, but a practice whereby we set down roots of our own.

    I still am frustrated with myself for not being able to put more urgency into prayer and less into the expectation to grow. I’m 38 and feel sometimes like much of my thinking and behavior is stuck in Jr High!

  9. fatherstephen Says:

    Slowness is definitely not a junior high characteristic, except when applied to getting up in the morning.

  10. Hartmut Says:

    In my expierience Protestantism either lacks the knowledge of growing in faith. You become a christian, you are justified by God and that’s it. Now you can walk with upright head. Either this or you are expected to become a perfect christian instantly. Every sin and every setback then is a disaster, at least emotional. Now, on my way to Orthodoxy, I’m learning to have patience with myself. To overcome lifelong sinful habits or things that aren’t good for my relationship with Christ, takes time, means to fall and to get up again and again. In this there is no room for spiritual arrogance or self deception (“I got it!” – “I had the strength”). Time to grow, time to eventually bear fruit, time to become more and more the likeness in wich God has created me.
    I don’t want to play down bad habits; but to overcome them really takes time – or am I totally wrong in this?

  11. Fatherstephen Says:

    It really does take time.

    I would assume that a mature Protestant pastor might know that. I can think of a lot of things that I didn’t know when I was in my twenties, though I was a pastor. Becoming Orthodox made a difference, but I was 43 when I converted – and that made a difference as well.

  12. neil Says:

    I have known pastors who seem to have a notion of spiritual patience, young and older, most notably those who had some experience with addiction and 12 step programs. When I was first approaching Orthodoxy, I sensed a similarity to this kind of patience, though Orthodoxy seems to be a completely different paradigm than what I grew up with as a Protestant. I’m actually still on the approach a few years later. In my previous church experience I would feel guilty by now for not making a commitment. Approaching Orthodoxy, God has not made it so easy for me to jump right in head first (read “in over my head”), which is a blessing, probably.

  13. fatherstephen Says:

    Neil,

    Oddly enough, the night before I made my first and final decision to become Orthodox (that’s it’s on little story) I read an article about a convert. In the story, a very wise, older Orthodox woman whom the seeker was consulting said to him, “Yes. Become Orthodox. But wait ten years.”

    Of course, it’s not proper general advice. But the fact that someone could say anything like that affected me deeply, and probably secured the conversion where my heart had been teetering on the verge. I cannot explain the effect the story had on me – but it spoke to something very deep about something very real. Because the God Whom the Orthodox teach and worship is, indeed, God, and not just ideas about God, I think such a thing can be said (strangely enough). It’s not like you have to be afraid the idea is going to go away.

  14. neil Says:

    I’ve heard that story, too Father, and I was also encouraged by it. Strange but comforting words.

  15. St. John Chrysostom on the Jesus Prayer « Glory to God for All Things Says:

    […] also reinforces postings on this blog which speak of the “slowness of grace.” Thus we are not only enjoined to be vigilant, but also to be […]

  16. neil Says:

    Fr Stephen,

    A question that’s been on my mind for awhile considering the lowness of conversion: Is it possible/appropriate/necessary for a person who is not even a catechumen but on the path to confess to an Orthodox priest? It may be awhile before I’m fully “in the fold” due to my marriage situation, but I long to confess and get some junk off my back, so to speak.

    Perhaps it is a local priests jurisdiction?

    neil

  17. fatherstephen Says:

    It can be done as part of catechumenal process – under certain circumstances it can be done without that in a purely pastoral situation. The priest would then pray with a person rather than use the standard prayer of the sacrament of confession. I’ve done this sort of thing when hearing 5th steps in AA.

  18. neil Says:

    The 5th step was a bit like what I’m longing for, I suppose, as I’m no stranger to the 12 steps. I’d like to do something like that on a regular basis, though. I’ll talk to a local priest. There’s also a priest-monk at a mission monastery in town where I live. As I’m currently not a consistent part of any church body for the same reasons previously alluded to, would he be a more valid option? (Is there a handbook that could tell me exactly how to do this whole journey under my specific circumstances? chuckle, chuckle…)

    Thanks for your continued patience and care with us inquirering readers! It’s a blessing.

  19. fatherstephen Says:

    I generally recommend a parish priest rather than a priest-monk, but it totally depends on the situation. If there is a local priest who understands the situation and is willing to work with you all the better. There are not good handbooks out there (yet). We’ve only been speaking English since sometimes in the 60’s.

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