Long-Suffering

I am not a patient man.

People who know me might say that I am pretty easygoing. My personality assessment would define me as one who is not too easily ruffled. Compared with others, perhaps I tend toward patience in many of my interactions. And for the most part, that is true.

But held up against the Bible’s description of patience, and measured against my Savior’s example of long-suffering, I realize how far from patient I truly am.

I’ve been reading a compilation of Jonathan Edwards’ sermons on I Corinthians 13 (the book is titled Charity and Its Fruits: Living in the Light of God’s Love), and what Edwards says about verse 4 of that “love chapter” of the Bible is very sobering and convicting to me. In modern English we do not use the term “long-suffering,” but that is what the word “patient” in I Corinthians 13:4 means. Edwards says that this patient quality of love is called long-suffering, or suffering long, for this reason:

Because we ought meekly to bear not only a small injury, but also a great deal of injurious treatment from others. We should continue in quiet frame without ceasing still to love our neighbor, not only when he injures us a little but also when he injures us much, when the injuries which he does are great. And we should not only thus bear a few injuries but a great many, and though our neighbor continues his injurious treatment to us a long time…. The meaning is not that we should bear injuries indeed a long time, but may lawfully cease to bear them at last; but the meaning is that we should meekly bear injuries though they are long continued, that we should not only bear it when men injure us a little while and then soon repent of it, but we should meekly bear it though they continue in their injuriousness a long time, yea, let it be ever so long.  [pg 100]

If that is not convicting enough, Edwards further says that the manner in which we meekly bear injurious treatment for a long time is not with a “bitter exasperated countenance” nor with “rash and hasty expression” but with “peaceableness and calmness” and grace. If needed, a person…

…may reprove his neighbor; but if he does, it will be with politeness and without bitterness, which still shows the design to be only to exasperate. It may be with strength of reason and argument and serious expostulation, but without angry reflections or contemptuous language. He may show a dislike of what is done, but it will not be with an appearance of high resentment; but as a man would reprove another that has fallen into sin against God, rather than against him; and as lamenting his calamity more than resenting his injury, and as seeking his good rather than his hurt; more to deliver him from the calamity into which he has fallen than to be even with him for the injury he has brought on him.  [pg 98]

Oh that I could truly see and lament the calamity of another’s sin against God as the far greater problem than that person’s injury to me! What would that look like to meekly bear injury against myself without contempt or resentment but truly with sorrow for the calamity that person will face before God because of their sin?

And lest I bemoan the fact that injuries against me seem to happen so often, Edwards cautions that I should not be so surprised.

If we are not disposed meekly to bear injuries, we are not fitted to live in such a world as this, for we can expect no other than to meet with many injuries in this world. We do not live in heaven, or a world of purity, innocence and love. We dwell in a fallen, corrupt, miserable, wicked world; a world that is very much under the reign and dominion of sin…. Men who have their spirits heated and enraged, and rising in bitter resentment when they are injured, or unreasonably dealt with, act as if they thought some strange thing had happened to them. …it is no strange thing at all; it is no other than what is to be expected in such a world…. A wise man does not expect any other and is prepared for it, and composes his spirit to bear it. [pg 106, 107]

I am not a patient man. I complain all too easily about the short suffering that I face. My spirit gets easily ruffled and resentful from others’ injurious treatment toward me. Edwards’ apt application of Scripture pierces my pretense of patience and shows me how desperately I need the Spirit of God to grow this fruit in my heart.

Vent…or Lament?

In the sermon I preached this past Sunday, I said that learning to lament is one way to practice the Romans 12:12 command to “Rejoice in hope; be patient in tribulation; be constant in prayer.” My understanding of lament is that it is pouring out my heart and pouring out my complaint…to God. And the operative phrase there is to God. The orientation of my heart makes all the difference between sinful complaining and God-honoring lament.

I read a wonderful description of lament in a brand new book that I’ve been devouring in the last couple days since it arrived. Andrew Wilson, a pastor in the UK, along with his wife Rachel, have written an incredibly hopeful and helpful little book called The Life We Never Expected, reflecting on their still-very-raw-and-painful journey of learning to live and love in the midst of a regressive autism that has begun to affect both of their young children. This is what Andrew writes:

Lament is more than crying, of course, although it is certainly not less. It also involves putting into words the depth of feeling and sadness we’re experiencing: in prayer, in a journal, in a song, or whatever. Doing this forces us to give due weight to our emotions, which many of us (particularly the English among us) are not always very good at; articulating them carefully helps us understand them, as well as handle them wisely. But it also forces us to take our pain to God, first and foremost, before we take it to other people. Lament, you see, is about bringing your sorrows to God, in painful description, petition, and confusion, and throwing all your doubts and questions at him. Rushing to dump them on friends, on family, or on Facebook, without having gone to God with them first, is not lamenting but venting, and in the long run it doesn’t do nearly so much good. With the best will in the world, people aren’t big enough to absorb your grief. God is.

And so, less than an hour after reading those words, I found myself yelling at God in exasperation over the impossibility of breaking through my daughter’s institutionalized-stupor-made-worse-by-Down-Syndrome, which was being displayed in her bath time routine. No one else was in the house to hear me, and I’m not sure what my yelling accomplished, but it was a lament, and in it my heart was oriented toward God. Because He alone can awaken life and mindfulness in my daughter…and He alone can bring healing to my angry, hurting heart.