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Grace and forbearance

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 it.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.






© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017