Festina Lente, or Faithfulness
part of the Education Is for Life series
Erasmus wrote of this proverb in his Adagia:
If you weigh carefully the force and the sentiment of our proverb, its succinct brevity, how fertile it is, how serious, how beneficial, how applicable to every activity of life, you will easily come to the opinion that among the huge number of sayings you will find none of greater dignity.
So, let’s apply this motto maybe not to every activity of life, but at least those that make up a large percentage of our days. These principles are for life – not just for schooling.
I must admit, though, I was tempted to veer into school talk when I read Erasmus’ essay on Festina Lente, because he clearly sides with a “better late than early” mindset. If you’ve ever been tempted toward an “accelerated” mindset, read sections 28 & 29 in this short essay and be encouraged to not push your children before they are ready – early academics is not classical.
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This phrase, Festina Lente, juxtaposes both briskness and plodding. We should make haste because we should not be stagnant or lethargic, but we also should go forward slowly because, as Erasmus put it,
Things that are foreseen and provided for by slow and gentle forethought are safer than what is hurried into action by hot and hasty heads.
So the maxim of festina lente opposes both laziness and impulsiveness. It requires both action and thought. It steers us from both sides of the ditch.
A poem Cindy Rollins through the years has oft quoted is
Little drops of water,
little grains of sand,
make the mighty ocean
and the beauteous land.
And the little moments,
humble though they may be,
make the mighty ages
Most of what we as mothers do all day are little grains of sand: read a book, correct a child, make a meal, sweep a floor, change a diaper. Our days are full of small tasks, but their smallness does not mean they are insignificant. It is in these ways that we love our families.
I think that the English word that summarizes this Latin motto is faithfulness:
1. strict or thorough in the performance of duty: a faithful worker.
2. true to one’s word, promises, vows, etc.
3. steady in allegiance or affection; loyal; constant: faithful friends.
4. reliable, trusted, or believed.
5. adhering or true to fact, a standard, or an original; accurate:
Faithfulness doesn’t imply large, impressive deeds. Faithfulness is all about doing what’s in front of you – your own duty, however humble that is – reliably and earnestly. Faithfulness does not evaluate how a duty ranks in the public eye or whether or not the duty will earn credit; faithfulness steadily fulfills its calling.
Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. (1 Corinthians 4:2, ESV)
Faithfulness at Home
To make haste slowly in the home, I think, is to embrace routine, embrace maintenance, embrace the ongoing nature of the task. I have fought against this aspect of homemaking more than any other. I have been the queen of boom and bust cycles. There is no avoiding it. Maintenance – daily chipping away at the work, bit by bit, over and over – is the only way to avoid chaos and filth. I’m finally starting to realize the error of my ways and work at accepting the dailiness of home life. It’s only taken twelve years! Perhaps within another twelve years I may even learn to enjoy the dailiness.
It feels more productive to get into a cleaning frenzy and take a room from utter disaster to sparkling clean. But the real productivity is in the quick, daily cleanings that don’t appear to make as much of a difference. This ties in with having true virtue rather than the appearance of virtue. And, there will always still come those opportunities to tackle disasters.
Nothing in the home ever stays done. It is not like sewing a dress or painting a picture, where you ever end with a finished product to display. Keeping the home is like tending a garden: its very nature is ongoing. And, like tending a garden, the best way is to weed when the weeds are young and small, to weed often, and to weed a little bit every time you go out to pick a tomato. Weeds breed weeds, so the longer they go, the harder the task becomes. Also, there are many miracle methods out there, claiming that they will show you how to have a weedless garden without work, as if it were possible to reverse the curse by chemical or by mulch.
There are tactics we can implement to make the job easier, but entropy is how the world works and no method will conquer entropy in this life. What is asked of us is not a immaculate home, but faithfulness. We are to keep at it, do what we can, even when it seems like entropy is winning, even when we can’t do the job we’d like to, even when we don’t like the job.
Faithfulness in Schedule
Festina lente is the planning proverb. In fact, this seems to have been the primary application of the motto when it was current: to make long preparation for war so that it can be won quickly. Or, as we say these days: think before you act.
Thinking before acting is exactly what planning is. Take the time, think it through, so that what you do is considered, prudent, and strategic. Make it a good use of your energy, and plan for recovering and even increasing your energy, as well.
Festina lente also reminds us to make progress by baby steps, incrementally, and be content with slow but steady progress rather than boom and bust cycles. I know I get a passion for a life overhaul and want to go gangbusters, but I can never keep up that level of momentum and soon crash. Still, usually one or two small changes stick, and I am better off than I was before. How much better to strategically choose the one or two small changes and apply myself to those! It is less glamorous, there is less immediate gratification, but it is much more effective and sustainable.
Faithfulness as a Mother
Festina lente reminds us that slow days, days that feel like not much is being done, days that feel like no progress is made even though you’re bone tired, are still moving you forward slowly but surely. All those little moments that you don’t count are counting. Even if we aren’t perfect, if we yell, if we don’t keep the orderly and lovely house we want, we are there and we care and we want our children. This I can tell you from the child’s perspective: the imperfections don’t matter as much as the fact that mom is a constant, reliably present. These long, seemingly unproductive days, will yield a harvest if we are patient and do not give up. That is one way we make haste slowly.
Do not be discouraged when you feel like you’re constantly messing up. Ask forgiveness, make it right, keep on going despite all odds, and in the long haul, we will look back and see that it was worth it and that we really have “made haste.”
Let us walk by faith, slowly and steadily, hastening unto glory.
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10, ESV)