As you discover the Sacred imprint in you, you’ll naturally desire to grow closer and closer to people. This is the way God intends for it to happen. But something else will happen as you pour into these people. We’d rather not admit what we need to just say honestly, but the closer we get to folks, the more we realize how crazy they are. Just a little bit, usually. And then, if we’re healthy at all, we discover the other half of that truth.
We discover that we’re a little crazy too.
All of us.
And if we don’t learn the fine art of waiting for people to go from crazy to Christlike, we’re gonna become even more crazy ourselves because the people we love aren’t willing to change. And there’s a word embedded into this whole crazy conversation, and you already know what it is.
That’s the word. It’s a word this inextricably linked to the concept of love, and at the same time, the most difficult part of loving anyone, especially over the long haul. Sometimes in Scripture, love and patience are substituted for each other. At other times, the two words mutually define one another. A great example of this is in 1 Corinthians 13:4 in Paul’s laundry list of words that best describe what love really is. And you heard it the last time you were at a Christian wedding.
“Love is patient”.
Paul said that to a Corinthian church that was really confused about what true love looked like, and was in dire need of some hard truth.
But the problem with patience is that it’s really hard to define. If I told you I’d give you a free trip to Hawaii if you could come up with a definition for patience in the next ten seconds, you’d probably use the word “wait” or “waiting” somewhere in that definition.
And then I’d tell you that I was lying about the whole Hawaii proposition, and you’d be ticked. And I’d understand that, and I’d ask you to please be patient with me.
At it’s core, patience is waiting. It’s all about waiting. And most of us are really not so great at waiting. I complain that my microwave is slow. But in an attempt at a more robust and next-level definition, I’d simply ask, “Waiting for what?” And that’s where the discussion might get interesting.
As we work at coming up with a definition of patience, we need to move beyond defining patience as simply waiting. It’s more. It must be more. And after a few years of trying to figure this one out, I think the best and most complete definition comes from a man I wish I would have known personally. His name is Thomas Merton, and he was a North American Catholic priest, a Trappist monk, and a bit of a mystic. I think this quote helps us out with the beginning of discovering a working definition for patience. Merton said…
The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image.
I told you. He’s really good. I’m not smart enough to know what a mystic is, but I think I wish I was a little more of one. As long as I didn’t become weird.
Anyway, patience is waiting, but it’s more – especially for people who follow Jesus. For Christ followers, here’s what Merton is saying, I think.
PATIENCE IS WAITING FOR GOD TO DO WHAT ONLY GOD CAN DO IN THE LIFE OF ANOTHER, AND TO ABANDON ANY EXPECTATION THAT THOSE CHANGES WILL BE THE CHANGES WE WANT.
Patience happens when we wait for God to do what only He can do in their lives. In other words, we don’t try to force them to change, and we most definitely do not try to coerce them to look more like us. And if you’re currently in the middle of trying to change a spouse, or a boss, or family member, or a client – good luck with that. My hunch is that you’re failing. And that’s by design.
HAROLD AND HATTIE
I’d like to introduce you to my grandparents on my mother’s side. Their names are as unique as the lives they lived – Harold and Hattie Seyffert.
I remember some drunk guy calling my grandfather Harry once, and I thought he was going to be shot dead on the spot. His name was Harold, and nothing else. And I never knew what Hattie meant, or if it was short for something, or if it had some deep biblical nuance. I don’t much think so.
Harold was a staunch German, and Hattie was from the heart of Texas. She came from the home of a single father, because her mom passed away at a young age. Her father raised three daughters on his own, never remarried, and loved Jesus fiercely. And he passed his love of Jesus on to all three daughters – Hattie, Eunice, and Anna Mae. I am the recipient of the passing on of that love, and I never knew my great grandfather. And my three daughters owe much to him as well.
But my grandfather, on the other hand, wanted nothing to do with Jesus.
In 1928, they had their one and only child – a daughter, my mother, named Peggy. The name Peggy was short for Margaret, which is just the most non-sensical thing I’ve ever heard of. But in Texas, everyone was like, “Yeah. Peggy is short for Margaret”, and no one would give it a second thought. They were far more interested in the catfish fry.
My grandfather didn’t exactly win any Father of the Year Awards. He would disappear over the Mexican border for weeks and even months, chasing women and tequila. My mom would come home from elementary school every day, and she’d walk straight to her dad’s closet, fearfully peering inside to see if his clothes were still there. If they weren’t, he’d most likely left the family for another 4-6 weeks.
But my grandmother was patient with her husband.
Harold developed the skill of welding, and became one of the foremost welders in the United States. During World War II, he led teams of men who built battleships. He became known as a “master welder”, and was one of the first ten men ever given that high distinction in the U.S. That particular skill set required that he followed the work, from city to city, and state to state. As a result, my mother moved eight times in the first sixteen years of her life. As an only child, you might imagine how difficult this was for her.
She had a father who was too rough and non-emotional to ever say the words, “I love you.” She never knew if he would be a part of her life, from one day to the next, and when he was home he drank himself to sleep most nights. He was probably physically abusive to both women in the home, and even though the evidence supported it, we could never get my mom to admit it. So if you ever met my mother as an adult, you’d be meeting a walking miracle. The Jesus I know is the Jesus she introduced me to.
And that may be because of what happened next.
In 1961, their family moved to Fresno because both my grandmother and my mother were employed by the Fresno School District as teachers. And during that season of their family’s life, my grandfather’s alcohol abuse grew from bad to worse.
When I was five years old, I remember my mom getting a phone call that made her cry. That’s all I remember. She just slumped down into the shiny plastic chair in our kitchen, and sobbed. After a night of drinking, my grandfather had been in a severe single-car accident on Highway 99 near Tulare, CA. He had rolled his white Jeep six times, and was in the hospital, fighting for his life. His head had literally split open, and it took over sixty stitches to close the wound, and this was all in addition to having a broken neck. The only thing that saved his life was the roll bar on his jeep.
Our family was in complete crisis.
But my grandmother was patient with her husband.
My grandfather survived the accident, had a three-level neck fusion, and a noticeable scar that ran from his forehead down to his neck. But the accident seemed to become a wake-up call for him. As a young boy, I remember watching my grandfather’s life begin to change right before my eyes. None of us could believe what we were witnessing.
The first thing he did was to get involved in our church. He wasn’t too keen on listening to sermons, but he loved greeting people, so he became an usher at the First Baptist Church of Fresno. I wish you could have seen this through my eyes. This staunch German man who couldn’t smile or turn his neck without turning his entire upper body at the same time, was now placed at the front doors of the church as a welcome agent into the building. That’s just really funny. He’d skip out during the sermon to have a smoke with the other ushers, just in time to make it back for the final stanza of “The Ol’ Rugged Cross”.
Later in his life, he took a pack of cigarettes, wrote the date and time on the package, and quit smoking in one day. He left the package on the kitchen table for the rest of his days as a reminder of where he had been, and how far God had brought him.
Not soon after that, he launched a Christian version of AA – a version that gave the name Jesus to the Higher Power. I realize that this is popular now in churches, but no one was doing this stuff in the early 1970’s – at least in Fresno. He actually rewrote the curriculum (illegally, I suppose), and launched what he called Alcoholics Victorious. They met for years every Tuesday night in a corner room of the church campus, and he led the whole thing.
He later volunteered at the Fresno Sheriff’s Department, telling his story of alcoholism, guns, and Jesus. He was a perfectionistic artist and craftsman, so he began to create these gorgeous custom gun holsters out of leather for any officer who wanted one.
As he began to grow and mature in Christ, he decided to teach sixth-grade boys at the Baptist church. He took them through a 9-month verse-by-verse study of the book of Revelation. It become the coolest and most sought-after class in the whole church. There were even some adults who wanted to sit in, but he refused to let them. And out of his own pocket, he purchased a Scofield Reference Bible for every kid in the class, completed with those tabs that stick out of the pages. I remember being in sixth grade, in his class, and being so proud that he was my grandfather. He taught that exact class to nine different groups of kids, for nine years in a row.
When he passed away, it was a sad day for me. I had never been in a room where someone actually died, so this left an indelible impression on me. A few years later, my grandmother passed as well.
And as we were cleaning out her things, we came across a series of notebooks – spiral notebooks, all with her personal and unique handwriting on them. When we began to read them, we were blown away by the amount of prayers that she had written, over and over again, asking Jesus to save her husband.
“Jesus. Please help Harold.”
“God. Only you can change that man’s heart.”
“God. Give me strength to not give in.”
“God. Please change him.”
Over and over and over again, for years and years and years, we discovered that, for the whole entire painful season of their marriage, Hattie had been patiently praying for Harold.
SHE WAS WAITING FOR GOD TO DO WHAT ONLY HE COULD DO, AND SHE DIDN’T PUT ANY EXPECTATIONS ON WHAT THAT REDEMPTION STORY WOULD LOOK LIKE.
Patience is indeed the most difficult thing about loving the people in our lives. So if you want one step toward patience in your own life, just teach yourself to whisper this prayer throughout your day, especially when you encounter those people in your world who need it.
“God. Do what only You can do here, and remind me that I’m not in control of the way you do it.”
Because at the heart of impatience is a desire to control people and circumstances that we cannot control. We just trick ourselves into thinking that we can.
Love is patient.
And it’s the toughest thing about loving anyone.
But wait for God to grow them, and be there to celebrate when He does.