I couldn’t help it – the guy bugged me. We’d been thrown together in a situation and I’d come out of it feeling silly and a bit used. That’s all I’ll say. Yet whose fault was it? Had he actually done anything wrong? Not that I could clearly put my finger on. Part of that might just be me and my own insecurities or style. Yet the “bug” still nibbled at me. What should I do? Confront? No, it was too vague. Forgive? Likely not necessary. Patiently accept him until the “bug” moved on? Probably.
Ever run into that sort of situation? Last week we talked about why it’s important to learn to distinguish between the need to forgive and the need to just be patient. Let’s draw that out a little more with a couple of questions.
How can I distinguish between when I need to forgive and I need to just be patient?
1. The need to forgive usually involves a significant wrong
Much that bothers, annoys, or even hurts our feelings, isn’t caused by anyone actually wronging us. They may just disagree with us, be messy, or slow, or act in ways which we find irksome. There’s nothing ethically wrong here, it’s merely not how we want them to be. On the other hand, when what’s done is morally wrong, especially deliberately wrong, it often requires forgiveness to get us past it, because it does more damage and often causes resentment.
2. The need to forgive involves a woundedness which is hard to heal
This one is tricky. What may merely be annoying to someone else, may cut us deeply. This could be because of our personality or our background or our interpretation of the situation. Fairly, or unfairly, it creates a rift between us and the other person. I once deeply hurt a woman and didn’t know it for years. I hadn’t wounded her on purpose, but my words still did serious damage to our relationship and over time she grew increasingly bitter. We’d once been close. She needed to forgive me if the barricade between us was to go away (and I needed to try and help her if possible).
Forgiveness is a key tool in a growing believer’s arsenal. If you can learn to forgive, your spiritual growth will be far greater. On the other hand, spiritual bitterness inhibits our growth in Christ-likeness. Since I’ve already discussed forgiveness in previous articles, let’s finish this one by dealing with patience.
How can I grow more patient?
1. I grow more patient as I continue to grow closer to God
Do you have any idea how patient God is with us? If He wasn’t massively patient no love relationship would be possible. We’re all stubborn, confused, weak, selfish, etc., and half the time we don’t even know it. The more we interact with Him, the more He rubs off on us. His patient spirit becomes our spirit.
2. I grow more patient when I remember how patient others have been with me
It’s not just God who’s exhibited piles of patience toward us. We’ve exasperated and frustrated lots of others as well, including parents and friends, many of whom have chilled and just stuck with us. The more we grow in Christ, the more we realize just how imperfect we are and how much grace has been already extended to us. Why not do the same for others?
3. I grow more patient when I grow to value others more
Michelangelo knew, when he first encountered that huge block of granite, realized that it would take many hours before his gorgeous statue of David emerged. It was worth it to him, though, to invest the needed time and energy. Others also are worth the time and energy. They’re made by God, in His image, and whatever effort it takes to help them become better in some way, and, hopefully, point them toward Jesus in a good investment. They’re just as important as we are. Do you believe that?
4. I grow more patient when I learn what to just accept
People don’t always change in order to make us happy, for any number of reasons. Perhaps, they don’t need to change. They’re fine the way they are. Our impatience is more about us than about them. We just want what we want. Perhaps they’ve tried to change, but have failed (think of that twenty pounds you’ve already lost five times). Or perhaps, they don’t agree with us on the need for change. Good people can disagree. The point is that patience sometimes means that we let it go, whether that seems fair or unfair. Everything is not worth the hassle. Let’s mostly enjoy what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t have. Ironically, sometimes, when we accept people, after we back off, they end up changing anyway. Our acceptance frees them up somehow.
5. I grow more patient when I allow time for change
Even if they do need to change, change takes time, even when someone is willing to try and grow. People learn at their own rate – often (in fact usually) more slowly than we’d like. We easily forget how long it took us to master a skill or mature in a certain area. Nor is everyone capable of growing at the same rate. I’m not suggesting that we can’t push people a bit; everyone needs a nudge sometimes. But patience requires realism.
6. I grow more patient through learning to live with discomfort and pain
None of us is a fan of pain. Patience, also called “longsuffering” requires a willingness to be uncomfortable or unhappy for an extended time because it serves a higher purpose. If we grow impatient, we may sabotage the process. Learning to swallow our frustration, to walk it off, and come back, is a critical skill. People are worth it. Think of how much pain God must patiently endure as He works with us. Aren’t you glad He does?
7. I grow more patient through learning to communicate thoughtfully
People do need to be challenged at times. They may not even realize we have an issue with them. We shouldn’t always just “let it go”. But our careful choice of words, attitudes, and tones can make all the difference in whether or not we exhibit patience while still making our point (don’t try this through texting, if possible – it lacks nuance). That patience makes the success of our interaction more likely or at least sets the stage for more productive interactions in the future.
8. I grow more patient through learning when to set limits
God Himself is not always “patient”. He too sets limits and enforces them. Patience doesn’t mean that we never say “that’s enough!” All healthy people have and need boundaries. In fact, Paul has this curious statement in 2 Timothy 2:2, where he tells Timothy “. . . correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience. . . “ Truly patient people set limits, both for their benefit and the benefit of others. The difference is that when we reach a point of “impatience” it’s done under control for godly reasons and not just because we’ve lost our temper or goodwill.