The Penance of Inconvenience

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.

Driving gives us many opportunities to practice the penance of inconvenience! (photo by Tom Fish – Pexels)

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.”

Waiting in line is often a penance for us… (Photo by – Pexels)

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.

Living and working with others can sometimes involve the penance of inconvenience. But hopefully it also involves the joy of being loved and loving!

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.

For reflection:

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.

I welcome you to add a comment below.


  1. John E Hopkins on January 16, 2023 at 7:45 am

    Good morning, Sr. Melannie…

    Your blog has given us book suggestions, beautiful music, thought-provoking videos, interesting etymologies, inspiring quotes, and, of course, the wisdom of your own well-lived life.

    Your message today reminds me of two things: the Jesuit virtue of “holy indifference” — roughly, things are not always going to go your way, because God’s ways are not always yours — and Thich Nhat Hanh, who once said he loved driving in America because of all the stop signs and red light his car would encounter while he was driven to places. These stops — instead of being inconveniences — reminded him to breathe and pray.

    You have reminded us that when our expectation does not “meet” our desired outcome, it might not always be a bad thing!

    PS: Loved the “in stride” word play!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on January 17, 2023 at 6:50 am

      Dear John, Thank you for relating this blog to the Ignatian “practice” of “holy indifference.” And I liked Thich Nhat Hanh’s attitude toward stop signs and red lights. When I’m waiting at a red light, I like to pray for the people in the other cars around me. Who knows what burdens other people are bearing? Thanks again for your wise comment, John! Melannie

  2. Joanne Bennardo on January 16, 2023 at 9:38 am

    Good morning Sister Melannie, on this cold bright NE Ohio morning,
    Thank you for this inspiring reflection, and also thanks to John for his good thoughts.

    As I read your words, gratitude flushed over me for God’s patience in my life.
    When I was young and raising three adventurous boys, they recall my response to their antics as, “God help us all.” The years have changed that short prayer to, “Thank you for my humbles.” For you see as the years rolled on and childish interruptions ceased, I find in the still present interruptions and my own inadequacies, God’s gentle reminder of His ever present touch. Praise be to our good and loving God!

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on January 17, 2023 at 6:53 am

      Joanne, I can’t imagine what it is like raising “three adventurous boys,” but I smiled at your “God help us all.” It’s amazing what kids remember too.. And I appreciated these words of yours: “God’s gentle reminder of His ever present touch.” Thank you! It’s beautiful! Melannie

  3. Dodie on January 16, 2023 at 10:04 pm

    When 9/11 occured,, some survived because of *inconveniences*: a child threw up en route to the sitter, so Mom had to drive home to change her and her child’s clothes; someone missed the bus; another couldn’t get a cab, etc. My favorite was of a man who entered the drugstore to purchase bandages for blisters that formed on his walk to work with his new shoes. All were late for work whilst their workplace at the World Trade Center exploded. Certainly puts the irritating *inconveniences* into perspective, doesn’t it? Should we view such *inconveniences* perhaps as a nudge from God about our unwitting skewed attitude?

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on January 17, 2023 at 6:55 am

      Dodie, Your examples are sobering… There’s that old phrase I’ve always liked: “Blessings in disguise.” Thank you for responding! Melannie

  4. Linda on January 17, 2023 at 7:17 am

    Good morning and thank you for your blog. I seek it out each week excited to see what inspiring words you have for us. As others have mentioned thank you for the words, the music and that part of yourself you share with us each week. May Peace, Joy and Love fill your spirit this week.

    • Melannie Svoboda SND on January 17, 2023 at 3:45 pm

      Linda, Thank you for your beautiful words. I enjoy writing–because of readers like you! Melannie

  5. Shirley on January 17, 2023 at 8:12 am

    I just love your blog but I have quit getting it and I don’t know why. I am hoping this will help me get started back. Have a wonderful week Sister Melannie.

  6. Melannie Svoboda SND on January 17, 2023 at 3:46 pm

    Shirley, I hope we can get the subscription section of this blog up and running soon too. Meanwhile, thank you for seeking it out each week. Gratefully, Melannie

  7. Sister Helen Hermann on January 18, 2023 at 9:02 am

    I like your insights on inconveniences. Perspective makes all the difference in the world. On a personal note, my sister, Sister Cecilia Marie, passed away on November 26. Please remember her in prayer. She is a huge loss to all of the family and to our community. We all need prayers. I’m sure you can relate to this because you lost your sister a while ago. Thank you.

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