(Originally written for "The Bells of St. Mary's" parish newsletter)
I’m on break at work and it’s been one of those days: computer issues rendering me incapable of completing my task list, miscommunications and lack of responsibility by individuals, and a vague awareness that I need a vacation. It’s all adding up to a mood in which I’m simply trying not to ruin other people’s days. Now I’m sitting down to write about forbearance. The humor is not lost on me.
Forbearance. The word almost sounds foreign. Certainly not one that rolls off the tongue in everday conversation. It is a word hearkening back to the antique language of the Bible, before revisionists tried to modernize the verses of Scripture. But what is it? Merely a synonym for patience? When St. Paul instructs us to bear with one another (Colossians 3:13), is it a matter of just putting up with people as they are? Or is it a virtue that integrates several virtues at once?
Patience, compassion, mercy, understanding, humility, forgiveness – each is in play when forbearance is practiced. And why do we forbear? Ultimately? Because God does. Because “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
We forbear because the Father did not wait for us to understand His plans before He sent His only begotten Son. Christ did not wait for people to believe in Him before performing miracles, or for folks to humble themselves before setting a holy example of service. And He did not wait for us to stop sinning before pouring His life out on the Cross. When we consider the Lord ‘s mercy, we should “consider the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15).
The family member who can’t shake an addiction, or who has an unbroken pattern of selfishness; the friend who clings to self-pity and grudges, or is too proud to admit a mistake; the coworker who gets under your skin; the spouse with the habit you wish could be eradicated; the child who just can’t correctly do what you’ve shown him how to do a hundred times. They all need your forbearance.
One who forbears looks upon another’s struggle, suffering or shortcoming and, as he does so, humbly acknowledges his own of the same. Forbearance manifests itself in enduring, determined patience. It is the antithesis of provocation. Where you could react in loud anger, you choose mildness and calm, firm words. Instead of giving up hope, you ask the Holy Spirit to show you how to help. Rather than dismissing the troubles weighing on another’s mind, you listen and seek to understand. Forgiveness is chosen over resentment. Intercession is offered up instead of condemnation.
Look on everyone with the eyes of your Heavenly Father, from the briefest encounter with a stranger to the most intimate relationships in your life. The Father’s eyes see each of us as we truly are, with every success and failure, strength and weakness, act of love and act of fear, virtue and vice. Through those eyes, we can love, and because we love, we can forbear.