(This is the first of a 4-week series of reflections on 1 Corinthians 13.)
I think it's very ironic that the first thing this passage talks about regarding love is patience, because for me it is one of the qualities I lack the most. In a world where Amazon Prime has replaced waiting times for packages, High Speed Internet has replaced spending an hour to download a single file, and text messaging has replaced waiting forever to get a response from someone, we have come to expect things to operate on our own time frame. I've grown so accustomed to "instant" results in many areas of my life. Having to wait 5-10 days for an order is aggravating. Being stuck in a line for anything over 10 minutes makes me want to give up whatever I came for and leave. The thing that frustrates me the most, however, is when I can't get other people in my life to operate on my schedule. All my life, I've always hated being late to anything. As a kid, though, you're almost entirely dependent on other people to make it to anything on time. My parents had this uncanny ability to make me late for anything. Church starts at 9? We'll probably be there at 9:05. Headed to the movies? You'll probably get to see one of the trailers, but no more. I used to have to tell them that everything started 10 minutes earlier than it actually did, because otherwise I could almost guarantee I'd be late. I grew up being very frustrated at this. Why weren't they considerate of my needs? Why didn't they see that what I wanted to do was important to me?
It wasn't until I started driving that this perspective shifted for me. It's crazy; for a guy that used to hate being late, I don't think I've been on time for anything in at least a year and a half. There's always something that gets in the way; traffic, car trouble, oversleeping, pit stops, high school kids that tell you to be at their house at a certain time and aren't ready for at least 20 minutes after that time (not naming anyone), or any other myriad of excuses. And I found myself feeling like a total hypocrite when I noticed this pattern. I had forgotten that the heart of why my parents would drive me places as a kid was because they loved me, and they cared about what I was doing. They sacrificed their time and their money to serve me, and all I could do was complain about why they weren't doing it they way I wanted to.
I think the heart of my impatience comes from a desire for people to do things my way. When I'm trying to teach something new to someone, I get frustrated that they're not learning it at the pace or the level that I would learn. When I spend the time mentoring someone I grow tired of seeing them make so many mistakes along the way because I want them to succeed and to experience the crazy awesome life God has for them. In this, I find myself getting bitter at people. I shut myself out to love because I'm too busy focusing on why other people aren't meeting my expectations at the rate I want them to.
I wonder how many times Moses and the Israelites felt impatient when they were wandering around for 40 years due to their own mistakes. I wonder how tired Jesus became when he told the same stories to people and they just didn't get it. I wonder if He would have been able to speak to more people while on Earth if the people he spent his time with didn't require constant hand-holding. And yet, he could just as easily feel the same way about me. "Daniel, how long is it going to take before you figure out how to appreciate people? When will you stop getting frustrated at those who don't meet your own crazy expectations?" What's crazy, though, is that God is not keeping track of how long it is taking me to figure things out, but instead He is rejoicing with me when I begin to understand His will.
In 1 Timothy, Paul is speaking about his conversion from a persecutor of Christians to a disciple of Jesus. While he was fully engaged in a life against God, he was met right where he was by Jesus and was forever changed. These verses stuck out to me though:
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life." -1 Timothy 1:15-16 NIV
Jesus waits for us to come to the point where we realize we need a Savior, and then welcomes us in with open arms. He never gave up on those who took too long to come to that realization. In displaying "immense patience", he modeled for us that love waits for those that it cares for. I think that for me, the perspective shift comes from realizing that I can't think of myself in some faraway place waiting for others to catch up to me, but instead I get to walk alongside people in their journey and grow with them. Patience is much easier when you say "I'll walk with you" rather than "hurry up and catch up to me." The walk may be slow, but the journey is half the fun.