Monday, 19 May 2014

Bear with me

The Bible tells us we need to bear with one another in love. And I can tell you, I have borne a lot. Seriously, Christians are hard to get along with. I can give you a few examples.

A really good friend and I used to read the Bible every day (using Wordlive) and text one another what we thought of the passage. It was really encouraging and it definitely spurred me on to read the Bible more. Then, my friend started getting a little slack. I was still determined to read it and text him and ask him what he thought of it. I did this every day for a number of months. Every day. I knew that reading God's word was good and letting my friend know and encouraging him to do the same was surely helpful. Although it was frustrating and difficult to keep up, I did it anyway.

Also, there was this one time that I put on a games night for my church friends and my non-churchy friends. It was a really fun evening. I cooked nachos and pizza; some people bought yummy desserts. We played games and everyone went home happy… except me. (For a start, it took place at my house so I was already home.) I was exhausted and I was confronted by a huge pile of washing up. I was angry with my church friends as I felt it was a missed opportunity to bless me but also to show a small glimpse of what Christian community and God's love is about. So, I sent a Facebook message lovingly informing my church friends about how I felt.  Everyone apologised; I forgave them. They washed up next time; I felt good about the whole situation. I was happy to host again and I didn't really have a problem after that.

So, these were situations where I was patient with people and exhorted them to do the proper thing. Because, obviously, I was the one in the right and I did well to bear with everyone else…

A year or so after the first example, I was trying to do a Bible plan with someone else. This was during a time that I was really tired all the time. In someways, I was feeling really close to God. I was praying a lot (mainly because I really needed the help in the busyness and difficulty of life) and I felt as if I was constantly drawing on God's strength. I saw God's mercy in small situations and I was grateful for it. The only problem was, I was really rubbish at reading my Bible. It just lay there, unread, collecting dust. When my Bible-plan partner would text me, even if it wasn't about the passage but just a verse of encouragement, I would feel guilty. I thought they were judging my relationship with God, and apparently I was a rubbish Christian. The more it went on, the more difficult it became. I found the other person a bit intense and I withdrew from them.

Then it struck me. I was seeing the other side to the story. No longer was I the person that was still keeping up with the plan and sending the texts. I was the person that was struggling and finding the other person really pushy.

I phoned up the friend that I kept nagging about the Wordlive readings and apologised for being a jerk. I nagged him everyday for six months. Frankly, he did well not to thump me during that time and we're still good friends. That's a testament to his good nature, not mine.

Recently, a couple from church hosted a morning tea session. I went, consumed tea and left. Shortly after this, I got a Facebook message. They were put-out that we hadn't helped them clean up afterwards. I was slightly annoyed, if I'm honest. That morning I had given someone a lift to and from their house, which took probably half-an-hour out of my time. I was serving other people elsewhere and that hadn't been recognised. Moreover, I was exhausted. I nearly didn't go and I went because I wanted to be polite and also because I was giving the lift. It was okay for them to judge me that I wasn't doing anything to help others, but that wasn't the case…

And then I remembered. I remembered the Facebook message that I had sent a year previous. I was hurt and felt taken for granted when my church friends left me to do the washing up. I felt justified in feeling the way I did. When I sent that message, I didn't consider what the people receiving it felt like at the time. Some of them had busy days or weeks beforehand; some of them had been to work that afternoon. But I hadn't thought of that, just about how I felt at the time. Moreover, the people I messaged reacted with grace and they apologised to me. That's not how I responded.

I was no longer angry with my friends for sending that message. I was once in their shoes; I had been put out by people rushing off and leaving me with the mess. It was also really interesting to be the one receiving the message. I had a better insight into what happened that games night when I felt let down by my friends. It also taught me that, in both occasions, I was very good at only thinking about myself. I was concerned about my exhaustion or what I had been doing and not anyone else.

Sometimes it's hard when you learn things out about yourself: where you've failed or got it wrong. But, in a strange way, I am so grateful for these lessons. It's allowed me to understand that there is another side to the story.

Matthew 7 has a strong warning about how to act towards other people's failings:

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?"

So, although I may have had to bear with others, they have certainly had the harder job: they've had to bear with me. I'll try to remember that next time.

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