Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. (Colossians 3:12–15 NLT)
The past few days, we’ve spent time expanding our incomplete view of patience beyond that of simply waiting while maintaining a good attitude. The word patience as Paul uses it also entails long-suffering and forbearance. While we’ve dipped a small toe into the waters of long-suffering, it is forbearance that is the most troublesome aspect of patience for most people.
The difficulty with forbearance is best summed up by Christopher J. H. Wright in his book Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit. He writes that forbearance “means putting up with the things other people do (or don’t do, when you wish they would). It means that you make the effort to ‘bear with’ other people, even when they irritate and annoy you, or worse. Forbearance is when you choose to forgive people, rather than hold a grudge against them. Forbearance is when you choose to overlook something that was hurtful or unkind, rather than fighting back with harsh words or making sure you get even with the one who did you wrong.”
To put it another way, forbearance is about responding to another person’s flaws and misdeeds with the kind of grace and love that can only come from the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
This is hard work. It means sometimes feeling like a doormat, like you are letting someone “win” in their wrong treatment of you. It means not falling prey to our baser, carnal instincts. It is the way of gentleness, kindness, love, peace, and mercy. It is letting “the peace that comes from Christ rule in [our] hearts.”
Gardening is not easy work, whether it is cultivating the soil of a yard, a planter box, or our souls. There are no shortcuts, but there are ways we can adjust our natural response to better reflect the way Jesus would respond if he were in our situation. One of them is by reminding ourselves that we, too, are flawed. Continuing his previous paragraph defining forbearance, Wright says, “Forbearance is when you learn to be patient with others, mainly because you are very well aware of your own shortcomings and weaknesses. It means you remember that other people are probably also having to be forbearing with you!”
May we be patient with others, for we know there are plenty of times when they must be patient with us. Above all, may our patience be a reflection of the rule of Christ in our lives.