Patience. Last Friday evening I was asked to consider: how has patience played a role in our relationships with others, and how it has played a role in our relationship with God. We had a few minutes of quiet to consider the questions.
And I got to thinking.
I thought of the usual things like being a kid trying to wait for Christmas to FINALLY get here or standing in a slow grocery line trying not to dwell on the fact that the lady in front of me has 23 items in the 20-item-or-less line.
And I thought of a really big wait we had, one that lasted over two years, one with endless frustration and heartache and renewing of paperwork as we tried to bring our youngest son out of the orphanage and home with our family.
But then I settled on a simpler story. That of my husband. When I met him I was 19 and very shy and awkward around guys. Now, a lot of people might say they were shy growing up, but this was pretty extreme. I wasn’t too bad most of the time and I could even be a bit of a class clown in a group of people, but put me one on one with a guy and call it a date and I was a mess. I could not talk. Oh, I could say yes or no or “I don’t care,” but that was about it. I could be on a date for the evening and hardly speak at all. I’d be in the car, up against the passenger side door with my hand hanging tensely onto the right arm rest. I would think of things to say, but could not get them to come out of my mouth. It was more than a little pathetic.
It was fear that made me like that – fear of not knowing what to say or how to act, fear of looking stupid (as if being like that didn’t look stupid enough!), fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt (what if he makes me like him and then breaks up with me), and fear of the unknown (what if he doesn’t break up with me and we fall in love and I don’t know how to do that). Sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how it was.
We had talked one evening before we dated and it was easy; no date, no pressure, no problem. Then he asked me out. And I froze. Can you imagine how difficult it must have been for him? He’d ask me questions and I’d nod or shrug my shoulders or say, “I don’t know.” Fear paralyzed me.
What would make a guy ask a girl like that out again? I don’t know. But he did. For a second date. And then a third and a fourth. I don’t know why he didn’t walk away. And slowly he learned little ways to draw me out. He learned to tell the difference between when I really meant “I don’t know,” and when I actually meant “I don’t know how to say what I’m thinking.” Sometimes he would even bring little cards with questions on them to try to help us talk. (Told you I was pathetic!) I don’t know why he kept trying. I don’t know what he saw in me that made him work that hard and be so patient waiting for results. But I think he had decided to love me and that’s what he did. And very slowly he did draw me out. It took a long time. Weeks. Months. And the deepest parts of me took years open up. But he kept at it.
His gentle patience and steadfast love drew me out and drew me to him. I knew there was someone who saw something he liked in me and was willing to work and to wait and to make me feel safe enough that I could let him in. And slowly I could risk loving him.
I’m so thankful for his patience.
And, you know, I think that’s a lot like the way God has loved me, the way he has patiently drawn me out. Even though my parents loved me my whole life and I was really secure in their love. And, even though I knew the story of God’s love from the time I was a child, I still struggled with a fear of being open and vulnerable and a fear of failing and looking stupid for trying. So, I learned of God, but risked nothing for him. I was a believer from my childhood, I was active in the church and read my Bible, but I did nothing with that relationship. I didn’t share him with my friends; I had no boldness in witnessing to those around me. To be more honest, I had no witnessing to those around me. My friends and my school were not impacted in the least by the fact that I knew Jesus and his saving grace. Fear paralyzed me.
And I had a heart that wanted all of God, all that he had for me. But fear kept me saying, “I want all that you have for me, but don’t make me go here or don’t make me do that. Please don’t let me look stupid.” And, you know, I don’t know why God didn’t walk away. I don’t know why he kept trying. I don’t know what he saw in me that made him work that hard and be so patient when results were so slow in coming. But he kept at it. But I think he had decided to love me and that’s what he did.
(2 Peter 3:15 says, “Our Lord’s patience means salvation” Aren’t you grateful he has been so patient with you?)
And very slowly he did draw me out. It took a long time. Years. And the deepest parts of me are taking years to open up. But he kept at it. And he still is. And, over time, his gentle patience and steadfast love is drawing me out and drawing me to him. I know there is someone, my Creator, who saw something he liked in me and who was willing to work and to wait and to love me until I felt safe enough that I could let him in. That I could risk really loving him. And he keeps at it even today, drawing me in deeper with him and helping me take him deeper and deeper into my heart.
Colossians 3:12 tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” I wonder. What if we clothed ourselves with these qualities? What if we treated those around us with gentle patience and steadfast love? What if we decided to love them and that’s what we did — even if it took weeks or months or years to draw them out? What if through our gentle patience and steadfast love they came to believe that there is a Someone, my Creator, who sees something he likes in them and who was willing to work and to wait and to love them until they felt safe enough that they could let him in. What impact could we make in our families at home, in our work, in our community and in the world?