Saint Patrick’s Day. I fondly remember my Mom’s green-dyed pancakes and milk, hunting for four-leaf clovers, and rummaging through my clothes for anything green, so as to always be the pincher and never the pinched. These silly traditions are fun, but just like Santa Claus antics at Christmas, the true meaning of the holiday can get pushed aside or lost altogether. This year, as I re-visit the true story of St. Patrick, I can’t help but be awestruck at God’s mighty hand at work and find ways to relate his story to mine…
Patrick was like many other sixteen-year-olds today, living in the moment without giving much thought to spiritual things. (He just happened to live in England around 400 A.D.) His family tried to raise him in the Christian church. If he had a smartphone, he’d probably be quietly texting and sharing memes during Sunday School, or catching a few zzz’s during the sermon. I wonder if he ever contemplated how many martyrs died those first few centuries just so that the Gospel message could reach his ears. Despite all the attempts to stop it – beheadings, burnings, and death-by-wild-beasts – the Gospel reached the Roman Emperor, Constantine, who brought much relief from the persecution with the Edict of Milan in 313 A.D. But, the world was still full of tyrants, barbarians, and, as Patrick would soon find out first-hand, slave-trading pirates.
Nothing like being kidnapped and sold into slavery as a teenager to shake things up in your life a bit. He was shipped off to Ireland where everyone spoke a foreign language and he was forced to work as a shepherd. He was in agony for his family and for anything familiar, suffering homesicknesses like most of us could never imagine.
It’s been almost two months since I moved from California to Idaho, and it’s getting to be that time where the gravity of what I left behind is sinking in. With boxes unpacked and furniture in place, we’re finding our routines and actually cooking meals (mostly). I’m not living as a slave nor was I ripped away from my family. I chose to leave and my quality of life has improved. But even still, I know the pain of missing my friends, my church, and all the things that were comfortable and familiar. How much more must have Patrick experienced the bleak and desolate loneliness of his circumstances.
I love nostalgia, and I believe letting tears flow while scrolling old pictures, listening to a spiritual song, and eating some chocolate, is worth thousands of dollars in therapy. However, if we are left to ourselves, we will eventually sink below healthy introspection and right down to a deep and fatal depression. It’s there that feelings of hopelessness, distrust, bitterness, anger, and hate await us (and hate leads to the dark side, as my little green friend will tell you.) And it’s there that Patrick found himself for years while in captivity. But then…
Did Patrick read the #1 best-selling self-help book? Did he pull himself up and pull himself together? Did he continue to be miserable until his circumstances changed? What happened to Patrick is exactly what happens to every Christian who finds themselves wrapped in the arms of God, and it’s explained in Ephesians 2:1-10. Scripture teaches that we were dead in our sin and had no natural ability to change course on our own. We were heading straight to hell. “But God, being rich in mercy… made us alive together with Christ…” It is God who does the miraculous work in us and changes us from the inside. We know this happened to Patrick because he wrote about it himself:
“And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And He watched over me before I knew Him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and He protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.”St Patrick, “Confessio”
Patrick remained in slavery for several more years after his conversion. But now, instead of harboring hate, he spent his time learning the Gaelic language and praying for the salvation of his captors. This is good news for those of you who might be wishing to be free but find yourself “stuck” in a blue state. God can use you right where you are! And it is God who is orchestrating everything for your good and will open the doors to freedom when the time is right. For Patrick, it was six years before God provided a way to escape. He had a dream of a boat that would take him home, so he immediately seized this opportunity, running for his life.
Imagine the joy Patrick must’ve experienced to be back home and free! The importance of freedom cannot be understated. Patrick now had the time and resources to study the Scriptures and grow in the knowledge of God in ways that would’ve been impossible as a slave. And wouldn’t you know it, years later Patrick returned to Ireland, this time as a missionary. According to legend, he used the shamrock, or three-leaf clover, to teach the people about the Trinity. It may also be true that in one village Patrick preached, the people practiced human sacrifice to false gods because of the coercive religious leaders. Patrick was able to share with them the good news that God sent His Son Jesus as the ultimate sacrifice and offers love and forgiveness to all! Whole towns were converted and baptized, and one particular convert, Benignus, the son of an Irish chieftain, became Patrick’s disciple and partner in spreading the gospel through all of Ireland even after Patrick’s death.
When I think about all this, I relate it to my own family’s mission and purpose in Idaho. I was not a literal slave in California, but I believe the same principle applies. Now that we are in a freedom-loving state, we have many more opportunities and doors open to us. We must see these things as privileges to be used for advancing God’s kingdom. Who knows? Perhaps God is preparing us for something greater. We must not limit ourselves to earthly comforts, but see comforts as opportunities to prepare ourselves for ministry, and walk in faith for whatever God might have in store!
Resources for teaching your kids (and yourself!) about St. Patrick:
- St. Patrick Story, Torchlighter Series found on RedeemTV (free account) or RightNow Media (free with access from your church or other organization)
- St Patrick Printable Activities by Torchlighter
- Trial and Triumph: Stories from Church History (Chapter 7, Patrick)
Check them out and have a Happy St. Patrick’s Day!