“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2 NIV)
The word patience comes from a Latin root which means “suffering”. In fact, some translations of the Bible use that alternate word “long-suffering“, which just about sums up the challenge.
When I am struggling (and often failing) to be patient, it’s my unwillingness to suffer for a time that’s at the root of my problem. Wanting to escape the pain of putting up with an uncomfortable feeling for very long, I jump to fix the situation, trying desperately to control the uncontrollable even if that means I react rashly and unthinkingly. I don’t wait. I fail to use self control, act against my better judgement, and sometimes even choose to do something actually sinful. Humble and gentle are not how one would describe me at those times.
Instead of “bearing with” (in other words, putting up with) a person who’s annoying or frustrating me, I blame, judge, criticize, dismiss, cajole, or nag, attempting to make my discomfort go away by trying to make someone do or say what I want. And that’s a frustrating and no win situation. Instead of recognizing that perhaps there’s something God wants me to learn in a particular painful situation (recognize my weakness and lean more on him, grow in my willingness to “carry my cross” and follow after Jesus), I instead just want the pain to end as soon as possible. I am not long-suffering; I want a quick fix.
What’s at the root of things is my demandingness about life and its circumstances, secretly believing inside that I deserve a comfortable life and people who don’t annoy me. What arrogance! Unsurprisingly, that’s my sinful, prideful human nature which needs reshaping and pruning and transforming by God’s Spirit.
God’s sovereign action at work in these unwelcome circumstances is his loving provision in my life, meant to conform me to Christ: Christ who is long-suffering, merciful, humble and gentle. I can protest against and resist God’s refining process – these difficult situations and people – for that is the freedom I have been given. Or I can choose to cooperate, humbling myself and praying for the grace I need to trust this loving Providence of God, this wisdom which is so much greater than my own.