Friday, July 27, 2012

on oblivion, patience and love

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet, by Ford Madox Brown

Right until fairly recently, I had the unfortunate habit of muttering, whenever I was out with the kids: "This is a test". I would feel compelled to say this almost every single time, because, without fail, we would encounter all sorts of people out in the big wide world, with their quirky behaviours and singular characteristics.

Now clearly I don't mean quirky like
cute or endearing, or even unconventional or interesting. I mean quirky like strange, boorish, inconsiderate and just plain rude. When people need "courtesy campaigns" and even a "kindness movement", what does that tell you. But of course, ungracious, thoughtless behaviour can be found the world over -- perhaps it's just more noticeable when it's crowded.

So, whenever we'd go out, I'd feel "tested" -- I'd literally feel like God was checking on whether I was displaying the "fruits of the Spirit". Depending on which translation you read, these include forbearance, kindness, longsuffering, gentleness, peace and -- of course! -- love.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote, "Love endures long and is patient and kind... it is not rude (unmannerly) and does not act unbecomingly. Love (God’s love in us) does not insist on its own rights or its own way, for it is not self-seeking; it is not touchy or fretful or resentful; it takes no account of the evil done to it [it pays no attention to a suffered wrong]... Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person...".

Well -- truth be told! -- anyone who mutters "This is a test" is not displaying the fruits of the Spirit at that particular moment. For in the course of any given day involving living people, I will encounter individuals who

- push their way through to whatever it is without saying something like "excuse me"
- hit my kids with their bags without pausing to apologise, or even just pausing
- yak at the tops of their voices to each other or their cellphones
- saunter slowly in a row, taking up the entire passageway
- smoke while walking, or in non-smoking areas
- repeatedly kick the back of my seat throughout an entire movie
- taunt my dog by letting their dog poo right outside my gate
- and the list goes on (care to add anything?)

These are people who more than live out Camus' quote, "To be happy, we must not be too concerned with others". I would literally feel my patience atomising. Sometimes, when my daughter would turn to me, rubbing her head, I'd say, eyebrow cocked, "Yes, I know. The lady meant to say 'excuse me'". And my eyes would follow the culprit's retreating, self-absorbed figure, perfectly embodying that phrase, "If looks could kill". I know they're not evil people; they're often not even half bad; mostly, they're just... oblivious. And more and more I was feeling the Holy Spirit convict me, for murderous thoughts are surely not in keeping with being a victorious Christian.

"Be merciful (sympathetic, tender, responsive, and compassionate) even as your Father is [all these]" (Luke 6:36).

Then, just the other day, I reached the checkout counter at the supermarket at the same time as this other lady. I had a basket with two things in it. The lady was pushing a trolley containing enough stuff to feed a small regiment. And what does she do? She pushes ahead of me, and looks at me very fixedly while slowly putting out her items one by one. I don't know how I managed to stand there for so long, waiting to pay for two boxes of salad, without killing something. I could hear the Holy Spirit telling, nay, urging, me to let it go, but I just stood there, fuming. And so of course, the Holy Spirit convicted me.

That night I prayed about it, and lo and behold -- what do I find in my Bible reading the next morning?

"I tell you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

"To show that you are the children of your Father Who is in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike].

"For if you love those who love you, what reward can you have? Do not even the tax collectors do that?

"And if you greet only your brethren, what more than others are you doing? Do not even the Gentiles (the heathen) do that?

"You, therefore, must be perfect [growing into complete maturity of godliness in mind and character, having reached the proper height of virtue and integrity], as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt 5:44-48, ital mine).

That line -- "for He makes His sun rise on the wicked and on the good, and makes the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers [alike]" -- especially struck me. The apostle John wrote, "For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life". Yep, the world -- that includes that guy exhaling a cloud of poisonous smoke at the bus stop. And yep, that includes people who cut you off in traffic, shove you on the train, and exult at making you wait forever in a grocery line.

The apostle Peter wrote, "if you bear patiently with suffering [which results] when you do right and that is undeserved, it is acceptable and pleasing to God.

"For even to this were you called [it is inseparable from your vocation]. For Christ also suffered for you, leaving you [His personal] example, so that you should follow in His footsteps.

"He was guilty of no sin, neither was deceit (guile) ever found on His lips.

"When He was reviled and insulted, He did not revile or offer insult in return; [when] He was abused and suffered, He made no threats [of vengeance]; but He trusted [Himself and everything] to Him Who judges fairly".

"Let all bitterness and indignation and wrath (passion, rage, bad temper) and resentment (anger, animosity) and quarreling (brawling, clamor, contention) and slander (evil-speaking, abusive or blasphemous language) be banished from you, with all malice (spite, ill will, or baseness of any kind)" (Eph 4:31).

And -- little aside here -- let's not forget the kids who witness our "indignation and wrath"; I am reminded of a quote by Zig Ziglar which I very recently mentioned to a dear friend: "Lectures often confuse our kids, but the example we set is crystal clear"!

"Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by] tenderhearted pity and mercy, kind feeling, a lowly opinion of yourselves, gentle ways, [and] patience [which is tireless and long-suffering, and has the power to endure whatever comes, with good temper]" (Col 3:12, ital mine). This is behaviour we must "put on"; it does not always come naturally, but is something we must consciously, habitually do.

So now, whenever I encounter... quirky... individuals, I pray for God's grace to consciously put on right behaviour; I remind myself that God loves this person as much as He loves me or anyone else, that He makes His sun to rise upon this person too.


Plowing Through Life (Martha) said...

We do live in a rude and pushy world, and it's truly a test of patience each and every day. I do have a large amount of self control, but I have moments when I fume, too. Every day we are tested.

Brooke said...

Oh dear friend- how often this has happened to me.good on you for allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to you. You never know...those occurances just might be an opportunity to share the gospel! Xoxo

Unknown said...

I'm often reminded of how prejudiced I am (not in a skin color sort of way, but by how people act) and God reminds me..these are my people. I created them. Its so humbling. well written, thanks for the reminder!

Pizziricco said...

Well it's true that the Good Lord says we should/must love our neighbour as ourself, i.e. be sympathetic, tender, responsive, and compassionate. But my dear He didn't say we have to LIKE them {:-)

Beth said...

Wonderful post, Janice. Interesting that you wrote about this as I've given a great deal of thought to this very thing. I think those of us who are polite and considerate of others often end up being the victims of the rude and pushy ones simply because of our non-aggressive ways. I always thought that my being polite and non-aggressive meant that I was being meek and humble until I realized that I was having extremely angry thoughts about those people who had been so rude. God convicted me, too, and I realized that true humility meant releasing that anger and forgiving that person and even trying to love them. I don't think feeling angry is wrong--it's just human---but holding on to the anger is wrong. Now having said that, there are still times when I want to strangle someone...but I just pray for God to give me peace and to help me feel love (that's really hard sometimes)...and it really has gotten better. Thank you for reminding me to keep walking my Christian talk!


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