Sometimes I like to time travel.

Going back and re-reading old letters and journal entries allows me to experience impressions and feelings that belong to another time in my life—to briefly re-inhabit a past in which the circumstances of my current life, so familiar to me now, were a complete mystery.

But it can be disconcerting, sometimes, to re-see and re-feel things that I’d left in the past. The experience of revisiting St Patrick’s Day 2011, for instance, is both painful and strangely comforting.

My journal entry for that day begins with an excerpt from a translation of St Patrick’s famous prayer, his ‘Breastplate’:

I bind unto myself today

The strong Name of the Trinity,

By invocation of the same,

The Three in One and One in Three …

I bind unto myself today

The virtues of the starlit heaven,

The glorious sun’s life-giving ray,

The whiteness of the moon at even,

The flashing of the lightning free,

The whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,

The stable earth, the deep salt sea,

Around the old eternal rocks.

I’m finding it harder to think of the earth as stable, I wrote.

Japan had just been hit by a devastating earthquake and tsunami, damaging a nuclear power station on the Oshika Peninsula. On the drive home from kinder drop-off, the radio told me that aftershocks were rattling Japan as thousands of bodies were being pulled from the sea and rubble. Tottering reactors billowed plumes of radioactive steam. They say the sheer force of the collision between the tectonic plates made the entire planet wobble and spin slower on its axis for a moment, I wrote, not sure if what I was feeling was dismay or awe or a bit of both.

It is hard to pray Patrick’s prayer when so little on this earth seems solid.

Christ Church Cathedral already lay in ruins, destroyed, just weeks before, by another earthquake in New Zealand, and swathes of northern Queensland had recently been flattened by a ‘whirling wind’.

It is hard to pray Patrick’s prayer when so little on this earth seems solid, I confessed. I don’t know if I can bind to myself a God who is so unpredictable. What I want is certainty.

It wasn’t just the news on the radio that made me feel that way. My husband had recently made a dramatic career change, and it wasn’t yet clear where this shift was taking us. I kept telling myself that we were going to be all right, but I didn’t know it.

The effort of maintaining a calm exterior was exhausting: I just don’t know how long I can pull it off, I admitted to myself, but to no one else.

Deepening my sense of unease was the fact that our family was looking for a new parish. Every Sunday, we found ourselves sitting in a different church with different people but having the same introductory conversations over morning tea. The kids, tuning in to my restlessness—as small children will—were also unsettled.

The practice of giving things up in Lent is a way of reminding ourselves that while God always has good things in store for us, sometimes we must wait for them.

On another front, I was working freelance as an editor and finding the financial unpredictability unnerving. Two big projects had been postponed at the last minute: Only one week’s work since the beginning of February, and payment still hasn’t arrived. In the absence of a new manuscript to work on, I was keeping myself busy with projects around the house. I told myself that I should be grateful for the chance to get these things done finally—and in a sense I was—but the waiting (on so many levels) was testing me.

In the parish we’d been in the previous Sunday, the priest had described the practice of giving things up in Lent as a way of reminding ourselves that while God always has good things in store for us, sometimes we must wait for them so that we can learn to see them as a gracious gift, not something to be taken for granted. In the waiting, he said, we acknowledge our need and we show our faith in God’s goodness, abandoning ourselves to the encircling, overflowing but unfathomable love of Father, Son and Spirit.

Maybe that’s what this is all about, I wrote. Maybe it’s not just about the outcome of the waiting; maybe the waiting itself is the gift.

Even the barest outline of St Patrick’s life makes it clear that he was no stranger to unpredictability, sudden shifts in direction and long periods of waiting. Abducted as a 16-year-old from his home in Britain in the dying years of the Roman Empire, he was sold into slavery by Irish pirates. By the time he was finally able to escape and return, he had endured six years of slavery in Ireland, forced to work as a shepherd, not knowing if he would see his family again.

St Patrick is able to look back on these years of slavery and to trace God’s plan for his life in them. It was through this testing time that he learnt to love and trust God.

Later, in his autobiography or Confessio—an old man’s attempt, perhaps, to do some ‘time travelling’ of his own—he reveals that while he had grown up in a Christian home, he was an unbelieving and ‘ignorant’ youth at the time of his abduction. It is hard to imagine how afraid and distressed this young man must have felt, finding himself so far from everything he had known and loved, among people determined to exploit him, and with no idea how to get back.

Yet St Patrick is able to look back on these years and to trace God’s plan for his life in them. It was through this testing time, he wrote, that he learnt to love and trust God, binding to himself ‘the Three in One and One in Three’, as he would later put it in his prayer.

These years spent among the Irish also helped him to discern his calling in life. Having gained his freedom, he would willingly return to the land of his captivity to selflessly love and serve a people who had enslaved him. Through those desolate years, God had slowly given the young Patrick the gift of patience and humility, showing him how to trust completely and wait well.

Back in 2011, I wanted to wait well but I knew I wasn’t succeeding. My journal entry for St Patrick’s Day ends with a prayer:

This is my need: Lord, help me to wait. Help me to see even the waiting, the uncertainty, my toppling, wobbly, incomplete world, as a gift. And while I wait, help me to affirm, if not with absolute certainty, at least with hope, that we will be all right.

Thirteen years later, praise God, we are.