I have nine children, and I have been a parent for more than 28
years, but I’m learning all kinds of new lessons in parenting and people
skills. As everyone gets older, extended periods of time when we’re all
gathered (15 in all, including my husband, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren)
are intense life learning sessions.
I noted recently that this term’s theme is forbearance. Indeed,
the perfect verses for Christmas holidays and the January break, when all is
supposed to be merry and bright, are probably along the lines of:
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all
men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about
anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let
your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:4-6).
With this many people under one roof, and without the edit
feature most use when interacting with strangers or even acquaintances, there
is likely to be some jostling for one’s “rights.” The pervasive joy of the
season — indeed, sometimes even the joy of the Lord — is threatened at every
turn by the reality of living life with fellow sinners. On a bad day, every man
(or woman or child) defends his pride and demands his rights. On a really bad
day, even inanimate objects join the campaign to rob the joy. New Year’s Eve
finds us scrambling to repair not one, but three separate leaks threatening the
ceilings of the floor below. We crave comfort and joy and we are confronted
with a choice.
We can dig in, insist on our own way at every human interaction,
and pout over the injustice of so many faulty pipes at once, or we can welcome
the new year with forbearance and embrace the opportunity to grow in grace. In
any gathering of people — whether family or not — there will be offenses, hurt
feelings and perceived injustices. There will be lots of opportunities to flex
the muscle of selfishness and demand our rights. And every one of those
opportunities is also a chance to be forbearing, to cling tightly to our joy in
the Lord and trust Him to deal with the person who infringes on our little
patch of happiness.
The ability to approach potentially difficult interpersonal
situations with patient self-control is a good life skill to cultivate. I’d
venture to suggest that it’s one of the best. Big families are excellent places
to learn it. We are given countless opportunities under this roof to just let
God take care of the selfishness and unkindness of someone else and let it go,
reminding ourselves constantly that love covers a multitude of sins.
This isn’t wimpiness. It isn’t falling on the sword. It’s
strength training. It’s knowing deep down that true strength comes in yielding
our own rights out of love for one another. Developing a forbearing spirit
means that we extend to other people the grace we want them to extend to us. We
learn to be more gracious and less demanding. We learn that we are not actually
queen of the world (despite thinking so when we were children); we are servants
in the world. We are here to stoop low.
With forbearance, we are not easily offended and we don’t make
major skirmishes out of perceived offenses. We extend to one another the
benefit of the doubt and the assumption of the best intentions. Forbearance
means we can look cheerfully to what the day (or year) holds despite the nearly
certain possibility that someone will wrong us and something will break. It
just happens. Over time, we learn that we can meet those challenges with
grumbling or complaining (or a thrown elbow or two) or we can let our
forbearing spirit be known to all men.
The Lord is at hand. He is near to us. He witnesses our
relationships. He sees our struggles. He knows our pain. We can die to
ourselves even when people act insensitively toward us because God is there, in
that moment, and He offers us the strength to be forbearing. Just ask Him for
Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance
writer from Northern Virginia.