Julian of Norwich learned about patience the hard way – through a paralyzing and near-death illness and then by watching Christ die a slow and agonizing death on the cross during her extraordinary Revelations. Following her recovery, Julian lived another forty-plus years contemplating and writing about her Revelations (enclosed as an anchoress in a small cell for at least twenty-five of these later years), all the while bearing her sufferings on earth and longing to be with Christ in heaven.
What Julian Understood
In all that time, did Julian grow impatient? She most certainly did. And this is what she learned from the Lord about the undervalued virtue of patience:
And to all this our courteous lord answered to give me comfort and patience, and said these words: “Suddenly thou shalt be taken from all thy pain, from all thy disease, from all thy distress, and from all thy woe. And thou shalt come up above, and thou shalt have me for thy reward, and thou shalt be filled with joy and bliss. And thou shalt never more have any manner of pain, nor any manner of sickness, nor any manner of displeasure, nor wanting of will, but ever joy and bliss without end. Why should it then aggrieve thee to suffer[be patient] awhile, since it is my will and for my honor?”
In this startling Fifteenth Revelation, the Lord responds to Julian’s longing for release with the assurance that the moment of her “being taken” will be sudden, “like a thief in the night” (1 Thes 5:2). She will immediately “come up above” and be forever free of sickness, displeasure, lack of will, in short, all the aspects of her life that she found so hard to bear. The Lord questions her heart as if to say, “Are you not willing to wait a little while until I come for you?”
This Revelation alters Julian’s attitude toward enduring life’s hardships. She realizes the great value of patience in waiting for God’s will to be performed. As Christ himself had warned the disciples: “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” (Mt 25:13). Julian understands that every soul must learn to practice immense patience in the course of life. And this is greatly profitable, because if we knew the moment of death, we would not have to exercise any patience. As long as the soul is in the body, “it seems to itself that it is ever at the point of being taken” (64:21.325). And so it should be.
Julian sees that our life (with all the suffering that we experience here on earth) is, in reality, no more than a “point,” an instant of time, that will change forever when we are taken to heaven and “pain shall be nothing” (64:23.325).
What can we learn from Julian?
First of all, we have to remind ourselves that everything we think or feel or do must be experienced within a divine context. We are made not just for this life alone, but for living fully our eternal lives in Christ. This is what we were created for. This is what we are destined to become: resurrected saints! If we lose track of our ultimate goal, we get bogged down in the annoying and often frustrating details as well as the immense sufferings and conflicts of our present lives. But if we keep a contemplative mind on where all this “life” is leading (to heaven, no less!) we can more easily find meaning in the moment, whether joyous or painful. We will, like Julian, learn to practice both patience with our hardships and greater alertness to the divine presence and comfort hidden within them. Then no moment will be wasted, no setback useless. We might even begin to enjoy taking more time to savor the very process of living our lives. And when we sit stuck in traffic, we might use the time to pray for all the others around us who are also stuck in life’s traffic, that they might be strengthened in patience and in hope!
PLEASE NOTE: Quotations above are from Julian's Gospel: Illuminating the Life & Revelations of Julian of Norwich(Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books), Copyright © 2013 by Veronica Mary Rolf. All rights reserved. This article may not be copied or reprinted without the written permission of the author.