When we hear the word “penance,” we usually think of sacrifices we freely make for love of God: fasting during Lent, helping out at the parish fish fry, making a donation to the local food bank. But some penances seem thrust upon us by circumstances: working through difficulties in a relationship, caring for an elderly parent, putting up with daily aches and pains. One such “unchosen penance” I call the penance of inconvenience.
The etymology of the word “inconvenience” is interesting. It comes from two Latin words; in meaning “not,” and convenire meaning “to come together.” Thus, inconvenience happens when things do not come together for us, or when things don’t go as we want them to go or as we planned. We get to our doctor’s appointment early, for example, only to learn there’s been an emergency and the doctor is running two hours late. Or we’re coasting along on a three-lane highway when we suddenly see an orange sign that says, “left two lanes closed ahead.”
In the big scheme of things, most of these inconveniences are pretty small. Yet, they can help us grow spiritually if we deal with them “graciously.” First of all, daily inconveniences can help keep us humble. Every time we are inconvenienced by circumstances, we are reminded how little control we have over our lives. This realization can deepen our awareness of how much we depend on other people—and (ultimately) on God. With every inconvenience, a little light bulb flashes in our head: “You are not in control of everything—and that’s okay.”
Inconveniences can also nourish our spiritual lives because they almost always make demands on our love. In fact, most inconveniences are directly related to loving others. For example, we put up with a job that is not ideal because we are supporting our family whom we love. We “waste” valuable time listening to an elderly neighbor because we feel compassion for her. We even clean the cat’s litterbox because we love the cat.
Jesus experienced inconveniences throughout his life. First of all, Jesus traveled mostly on foot. By our standards, this would be a great inconvenience. Yet Jesus seemed to accept this inconvenience “in stride.” And how many times was he on his way to somewhere, when he was interrupted? Individuals stopped him begging for his attention: a blind man, some lepers, a distraught parent.
I think our daily little inconveniences help prepare us to face those major inconveniences which can be life-altering: A critical health issue, a natural catastrophe, the death of a loved one. In Gethsemane, Jesus faced his imminent death by crucifixion—talk about a life-altering catastrophe! In his prayer he begged, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup from me.” But then he added those words rooted in his trust in the Father: “… but not what I will but what you will.” My prayer for all of us is this: May all the little and major inconveniences in our lives lead us to greater love of one another and greater love and trust in God.
What daily inconveniences do you find most challenging? Why?
What helps you to deal more graciously with inconveniences—both little and major ones?
I looked for a song that spoke of love of God and peace of soul. Here’s what I found. It’s the beautiful song, “Be Still My Soul,” sung here by Kari Jobe. The melody is the haunting “Finlandia” by the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
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