That sounds like the stupid opposite of what we hear everyday in our self-gratification culture, doesn’t it? Keep suffering? What in the world are you talking about?
I could have said, ‘be patient’ but ‘keep suffering’ gets to the core much faster. We can read about patience and brush it off without a second thought – it’s such a common thing for us to say. Suffering is really what patience is all about. The sooner we realize it, the sooner we will be able to exercise real patience.
If we didn’t perceive something as causing us to suffer – we wouldn’t feel the need to endure it. For example, one of my pet peeves is traffic. My perception is that traffic is a monumental waste of my time. Anytime I have to sit in traffic is an opportunity for me to think that I’m suffering. I’ve been known to triple the distance of my trip simply to keep the car moving. Even if it takes me longer to travel the distance, I’m happier. I don’t feel like I’m suffering if I’m moving.Being in a relationship will give us many opportunities to experience personal suffering.Click To Tweet
Being in a relationship will give us many opportunities to experience personal suffering. This suffering tends to be deeper and more difficult though, than my traffic example. The longer your relationship lasts, the more opportunity you will have to endure the exact source of your suffering. By that I mean, the person causing your suffering probably isn’t going to change. Their habits are going to continue to be a source of irritation. If you let them. And that’s what we need to talk about.
The Bible uses a word for patience we don’t use anymore. It’s long-suffering. The original Greek word that we translate long-suffering meant ‘patient holding out under trail.’ It’s practical application meant ‘a long holding out of the mind before it gives room to action or passion.’ (Definitions from Synonyms of the New Testament, Trench, 1980, Eerdmans Publishing)
Patience is the willingness to endure personal suffering without reacting. How good are you at that? Can you suffer without saying anything? Can you suffer without doing anything? Can you suffer without stoking an internal fire that builds until it erupts?
There’s a geyser in Yellowstone National Park called Steamboat. It’s the world’s tallest active geyser. When it blows, the steaming hot water catapults as high as a thirty story building. Interesting thing is that it’s unpredictable. The last time it blew was in 2014. It has gone as much as fifty years without blowing. And it has blown as much as ten times in short succession only days apart. Does this sound like what happens with you?
It describes my old habits perfectly. I felt I was being patient with the person who caused me to suffer. The truth was that I had this boiling pressure building up just under the surface of my calm persona. It was always there.
Before we go farther. When I speak of suffering, I’m speaking of my perception of being made to suffer. More along the lines of pet peeves that turn into burning irritations. I’m not speaking of abuse or intentional destructive behavior. I am talking about common misunderstandings. The way we handle money. The way we discipline children. The frequency of intimacy. The messes. The reactions to our actions. The consistent daily irritations that come with a different personality type.
These things can start fires that constantly burn. They just need a little fuel and a trigger to become a bomb. We could call them the blasting-cap-actions of the person we are in relationship with.
When the Bible uses the word long-suffering, it doesn’t mean that we get points for holding out the longest before blowing up. It means that we have a character quality that suffers without blowing up. We are able to endure anything that causes us to suffer without a passionate reaction. Especially one aimed to hurt the person who causes that suffering. How do we do that?
In my case, I started learning how to do it after I lost the relationship it would have most mattered for. Fortunately, I started learning before it cost me all my relationships. Here’s a few things that I’ve learned about patience.
Patience IS suffering. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be difficult. It helped me to realize this. Knowing that suffering is something I’m called to do helps me endure it somehow.
I’m suffering for something bigger than myself. When I suffer, I realize there is an eternal element to it. Being patient is God’s way for us to invest in this eternal reality. 1 Peter 3:17-18a says this,
‘For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust…’
When we suffer without complaint, without taking revenge, without running, without forsaking our duty, we are suffering in the same way Jesus did. He could have called a legion of angels to come relieve His suffering and wipe out His enemies. He chose rather to endure.
Most things aren’t that important. I learned that most of the things that irritated me weren’t really important. It took some doing but I found out most of my irritations were simply birthed from an ugly selfishness that had to be killed. I’m guessing the fight with self is more than a ten-rounder. And I don’t think my opponent can be knocked out completely – no standing ten count for this enemy! I will have to keep fighting.
What is good is more important than what others think. There was a time that keeping up appearances was necessary to me. I cared more about what people outside my home thought about my home, than what people inside my home were experiencing. I wanted everything to look good even if it took some strong-handed pressure to make it happen. I was insensitive to how that affected my family. I’ve learned it’s better for me to suffer for those I love than to make them suffer for the things I love.
Keeping these in mind helps me to be patient. It helps me suffer. It helps my family trust me. I’m no longer an unpredictable geyser to stand back from. I’ll leave you with the example of Jesus.
‘…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.’ Hebrews 12:1b-3 (emphasis mine)It’s better for me to suffer for those I love than to make them suffer for the things I love.Click To Tweet