How the Story of St. Patrick Helped Me Find Strength in Difficult Times

Adoption is HARD. So hard. For many of us, it is one of the hardest experiences we have ever faced. While in the thick of the waiting game, it is easy to become mired down in its bogs. We are told there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it can seem dim and far away, and sometimes, we wonder if it’s really a light at all.

In searching for inspiring stories to help me remain positive while we wait, I came across the story of St. Patrick. Now, I know what you are thinking, here comes the metaphor about the lucky pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. However, unlike all the traditions that surround St. Patrick’s Day, St. Patrick himself has nothing to do with leprechauns, gold coins, and rainbows.

St. Patrick isn’t even Irish. He was born in Britain in the 4th Century AD and was captured by pirates at age sixteen. He was taken to Ireland where he served as an enslaved shepherd for a druid priest. He spent six years in captivity before escaping, catching a ride on a ship for three days, and then wandering hundreds of miles across France before finding his way home.

So, how did a man who spent the hardest years of his life in Ireland return to become Ireland’s Patron Saint? The simple answer is that while he was a slave, he decided to turn his heart over to God.

While in captivity, St. Patrick began to pray, and through prayer, he started to see his trials as a test of his faith.

He said:

I am, then, first of all, countryfied, an exile, evidently unlearned, one who is not able to see into the future, but I know for certain, that before I was humbled I was like a stone lying in deep mire, and he that is mighty came and in his mercy raised me up and, indeed, lifted me high up and placed me on top of the wall. And from there I ought to shout out in gratitude to the Lord for his great favours in this world and for ever, that the mind of man cannot measure.

Though St. Patrick had come from a family steeped in Catholic tradition, he himself had not been very religious before he was taken captive. But, while in captivity, he began to pray, and through prayer, he started to see his trials as a test of his faith. After escaping and returning home, St. Patrick continued on his spiritual quest. He entered the Catholic priesthood, and was eventually made Bishop of the Irish. His life mission was to convert the Irish to Catholicism and to dissuade them from their pagan ways. The work was difficult, but St. Patrick eventually found success, as the St. Patrick’s Day holiday observance would suggest.

There are two parts of St. Patrick’s story that resonated with me:

First, when in the midst of a horrible situation, St. Patrick allowed himself to see it as a test from God. Not a punishment from God. For me, as a woman who believes in God, I feel that God tests us in order to help us become stronger. Looking at things from that perspective seems to put a brighter spin on the circumstances, and once I start to see life as a test, it becomes a challenge. I want to pass the test! I start to pay more attention to my feelings, to my actions, and to my words. I want to align myself with God—and when I make an effort to do so, I feel more peaceful. I find purpose in my suffering. God has not put me on this path because he likes to see me struggle. Instead, He put me here so I can grow to become someone better than I am. I want to be a better person, so why not embrace the challenge?

The second part of St. Patrick’s story was that after escaping from Ireland, he went back. St. Patrick had come away stronger, more devout, and with a purpose in life that he would not have had without the trials he experienced. He then felt the need to return and share his knowledge of God’s love with the people who had held him captive. Eventually, he was so successful and beloved that he was named the Patron Saint of Ireland. Ireland. He was now the saint of the land in which he spent six years as a slave. While I doubt I will ever become the Patron Saint of Adoption, I hope that I will be refined by my experiences in the adoption world. I hope that I can look back at this time and know that it was all for my good. I hope that I can continue to return to the adoption community and share what I learned with those who are still on the path. For what good is a life lesson if it doesn’t have the ability to teach multiple students?

St. Patrick’s story is a wonderful example of holding on to your faith in God and letting Him guide your circumstances. St. Patrick summed it up nicely when he wrote:

At Tara today in this fateful hour
I place all Heaven with its power,
And the sun with its brightness,
And the snow with its whiteness,
And fire with all the strength it hath,
And lightning with its rapid wrath,
And the winds with their swiftness along their path,
And the sea with its deepness,
And the rocks with their steepness,
And the earth with its starkness
All these I place,
By God’s almighty help and grace,
Between myself and the powers of darkness.

     –The Rune of St. Patrick