Mother Teresa spent 19 years teaching with the Loreto sisters before starting the Missionaries of Charity. St. Dominic preached for 10 years against the Albigensian heresy in France, with little traction. St. John Vianney, though later in his life attracted 20,000 pilgrims each year, labored with nothing to show for it for 9 years.
They wanted to follow God and do His will. But even when there were exactly where He wanted them to be, He let them experience the grind. And for each of them, they embraced the grind, and later God raised them up.
Normally, we only see the great success later in life. We only see the Missionaries of Charity and their amazing witness to God’s love. We only see the flourishing Dominican order throughout the world. We remember St. John Vianney as a preacher and a confessor who inspired conversions. We don’t see the years of hard work that led up to that great success, though.
Jesus even had the grind: he only spent around 3 years in public ministry, and the rest (30-ish years) he spent at home in Nazareth. Those 30 years were probably simple and mundane, and nobody else knows about them. But He’s God and He chose to do it that way, so there must be something to it.
Sometimes, we think God’s will is “out there”, someplace we have to go find. God’s will is right here in front of you, the tasks you have for each day. Most of the time, it’s not super glamorous. That’s the grind, and videogamers know that the grind is where you level up.
In a video game, no one wants to spend all day every day killing rats in the forest. But if killing rats in the forest levels you up and makes you stronger, you’ll willingly tolerate it. Soon, you can take down the bandits infesting the roads, the monsters roaming the countryside, and that dragon that’s been terrorizing villages.
You can’t just straight to dragon-killing, though. It takes a while to get there, and that journey is called the grind.
The grind purifies you
If everything you ever did succeeded, you’d get a big head. You’d become prideful, arrogant, and wouldn’t rely on God. Which is bad. God doesn’t want that for you. So, He purifies our motives.
I think with any of the saints I mentioned before, and with any of us, if God raised us up right away, we’d get super prideful. The grind takes care of that, though.
If you’re doing all the right things but seeing little success, you’re seeing what your actions alone can do. Suddenly, if things start taking off (but you’re still doing the same thing), it’s clear that God is blessing the growth.
I saw it time and time again when I was an on-campus missionary. You could work and work and work and see nothing, then suddenly Bible study grows and everyone has amazing conversations (and conversions). It’s clear then that God causes the growth.
And so perhaps that’s part of why we experience the grind.
The grind prepares you
Case study: St. John Vianney
God uses the experiences you have now to prepare you for what’s later. He doesn’t waste an experience.
St. John Vianney experienced the French Revolution’s persecution of the Church and came to admire priests, and at his first parish he saw people who didn’t care about the faith (probably as an after-effect of the Revolution). He wanted them to have the same zeal he had. God used his past experience to prepare him.
And even in that, it took a while for him to gain traction, but when he did, his fame spread far and wide and people came to hear him. And they were converted through it. God raised him up, but first prepared him.
Case study: St. Dominic
St. Dominic saw the dangers the Albigensian heresy taught, how it said all material things are bad and despised the body (which also meant they despised Jesus, who took on our mortal body). For a decade he had little success. Finally, Our Lady gave him the Rosary, and he learned that prayer and preaching is far more effective than preaching alone. And he founded an order of preachers, men and women with a deep intellectual life and a deep prayer life, to preach truth. God raised them up, but first St. Dominic experienced the grind.
Case study: you
Maybe you can look back on parts of your life and see how God has prepared you. Perhaps you can see the grind, and its effects in you.
But maybe not. Maybe you’re in the thick of the grind and can’t see the purpose. It’s usually no fun.
Imagine how St. Dominic must have felt, or St. John Vianney. Maybe they couldn’t see it either, how their current drudgery was going to change. But I’m sure they chose to trust God with it. You can make that same choice today: trust Him with the grind.
P.S. Be a hero today