When Things Go Wrong

Who hasn’t had the experience of everything seeming to go wrong, and usually all at once? The last few days have been rather like that for me. I won’t bore you with the details because I’m sure you can think of  enough instances in your own life without my having to recount any of my own. The problem is, what do we do? We can kick and scream, if we are the kicking and screaming type; we can renew our attempts to improve things, though with the gloomy foreboding that we’ll only make things worse; we can pray; we can try to escape whatever it is that oppresses us by plunging into drink or drugs or some other means of oblivion (not available to nuns, please note); we can have a good cry; take a hot bath; go for a walk; talk to the dog. What we can’t do is what we most want to do: change the circumstances we find ourselves in.

For me as a Benedictine, that is where patience comes in. It is often said that patience is our fourth vow because Benedict explicitly says that ‘we share by patience in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve to share also in his kingdom’. (RB Prologue 50.)  As a society we aren’t very keen on suffering; and if we are honest, some of the supposedly character-forming suffering of the past was both unnecessary and unhelpful. But it is surely naive to expect a world — or a life — from which suffering is absent. The ability to feel pain, to register sorrow and distress, to share comfort with another: these are human qualities that make us transcend our ordinary limitations. You may argue that problems with the plumbing, say, may be exasperating and inflict various degrees of inconvenience but they do not make us transcend anything. To which I would reply that I think they can.

It is not the thing itself but the feelings and responses it arouses within us that counts. A problem with the plumbing may seem hilarious at one level, but it may make me angry and aggressive and mean that I can’t wash or cook or have the heating on and am therefore cold, dirty and dispirited (this, I hasten to add, is for the purposes of illustration only and does not reflect life at Howton Grove Priory at the time of writing). The ability to cope with that cheerfully and not give way to envy or irritability is a form of transcendence, and not to be sneered at because it is a small thing. Life is made up of small things, small graces. When things go wrong, it is the small graces we most need and which bring us closer to Christ.

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16 thoughts on “When Things Go Wrong”

  1. This is a good read first thing in the morning. Thank you. I tend, as many do I suppose, to feel almost under attack when things go wrong and often there’s a series of events that have a knock-on effect. I know that I begin to feel sorry for myself and frustrated. “This must not happen” and “Why me”. Something awful happened a few months ago that several other things led from and I could hardly believe it. I could not control it or change it but live with it, a sort of grief.
    To cope with the pain I’ve had to change myself. I’ve had to accept the reality and I think that I’ve transcended it, though some days it’s back again.

    • We’ll keep you in our prayers. Things like that are not dealt with all at once. We have to keep ‘transcending’ them, so to say, but you are quite right: it is we who have to change, not the circumstances. Blessings!

  2. The small graces and bundles of patience truly point towards the path of humility and growth in the face of adversity. I have been living inside my proverbial cave, waiting patiently to discern God’s voice, for a number of years now. Only at times it’s hard and I lack the requisite capacity for patience. Then there are moments of sublime calm in the presence of God- usually when the circumstances are furthermost from my control. Curiously, I find that it is in the moment of letting go in difficult situations that I feel strongest. A bit like being moulded in a fire.

    Thanks again for highlighting complex stuff with deceptive simplicity. Always a joy to read.

    PS I am so glad you can escape those other means of oblivion.

  3. Thank you for that. I’ve been under chronic stress for some time and trying to get health issues more balanced to enable me to explore a new path (but to no avail over past 2-3 yrs) and last week I took a week off to ‘catch up’ and maybe rest a bit but was ‘given’ an even bigger load to carry so couldn’t even proceed with the ‘catch up’ week! Am overwhelmed and can hardly find where to start right now once I’ve done the usual work routine. Have given it all to the Lord and I usually plod on as best I can one little thing at a time. I felt a core of strength within me the past 2 days (others’ prayers I think)but today is a wobbly jelly again!… Prayers please.

  4. I am aware how frustrating small thing can be. But your problems with the shower seem beyond comprehension. You do your best, but suppliers let you down.

    I admire your patience and forebearance, I try to emulate that in my life, but sometimes fail. Today for example, I spoke to Customer Services on an internet based trader and requested information on the delivery of items ordered on the 10th October. Their blurb states categorically all orders fulfilled within 14 days (not working days), there fore they are late.

    The agent that I spoke to, seemed a little under pressure, perhaps I’m not the only dissatisfied customer? But he said, that one of the two items was out of stock and wouldn’t be available until the 14th November. We than had the discussion about my order. He being adamant that it was out of stock when I placed the order, I being adamant that if it had been out of stock, I wouldn’t have bothered ordering it and would have taken my business elsewhere. My question was why hadn’t they fulfilled the part of the order that was in stock? He prevaricated about not wishing to pay two lots of postage, but admitted that it wasn’t company policy to work in that way 🙁

    My observation that they could have notified me about the delay as good customer service, and he said that they didn’t do that either. I asked him if they were actually trying to turn customers away deliberately to give him an easy life – at which stage, he grudgingly gave me an apology for not contacting me, and for the delay.

    All of the time I was calm, and polite, but quiet direct, while the pitch of his voice was rising each time we spoke, I hope that I haven’t caused him to have an heart attack or something, but at least I sensed his frustration with the level of customer service that he has to defend, while I felt my own melting away. Not sure of the moral of that particular thing?

    However, I will hold them to to a delivery date of 14th November and if they fail, I will be demanding a refund.

  5. For anyone who feels that they are under ‘chronic stress’ and having done so for years, please don’t confuse suffering in Christ with a mental health problem. This needs medical intervention so please do not think you are failing to pray enough or rest in God. Seek professional help, which is also an answer to prayer. Little irritations are one thing, but constant or chronic stress a completely different thing.

    • I agree with you entirely about seeking medical or psychiatric help where that is appropriate (I don’t, for example, ignore my sarcoma) but I would also add that the spiritual dimension of physical or mental illness and healing should never be ignored. It is all suffering in Christ and with Christ, which is why we need to accompany those who are suffering with our prayers.

  6. Thanks for this, Sister. More relevant & helpful for me than you could ever have anticipated … especially as I’ve come to it at the end of a truly difficult & worrying day.
    Thanks for being a channel of God’s Spirit and love 🙂

  7. Thank you Sister Catherine – your words have really spoken to me and helped me to remember to try to be gracious and patient is all things and to start with the small things.

  8. I am going through some stress at the moment and without doubt the best thing I can do is walk my dog. It helps that I live in a beautiful part of the country and walking through it,
    never fails to soothe my soul.

    We should be careful about advising that one person’s way to deal with stress is the only way, It isn’t one size fits all. Stress is personal to each of us and we must find our own way to deal with it, which doesn’t hurt or impinge on others.

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