I recently came across an illustration about patience and long-suffering that gave me great pause.
According to a supposedly traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent one evening when a weary old traveler walked by. The old man looked tired and hungry from a long journey.
Abraham rushed out to help the stranger, inviting him into his tent. There he washed the man’s feet and gave him food and drink.
Without hesitation, the old traveler began eating his food before saying a prayer of thanksgiving. Abraham was taken aback, and asked his guest: “Don’t you worship God?”
The old man replied: “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.”
Shocked by the answer, Abraham quickly stood up, grabbed the old man by the shoulders and threw him out of the tent and into the cold night.
After the traveler departed, God called Abraham and asked him where the stranger was. Abraham firmly replied: “I forced him out because he did not worship you.”
God answered, “Although he dishonors and rejects me, I have patiently loved him these past 80 years. Could you not endure him for one night?”
This allegory made me think of how easy it is to love people whom we have a lot in common with, and how hard it can be to extend grace to those who don’t.
A quick mental scan through the names of my closest friends and I realize a common thread: We all believe the same basic things. That is a natural tendency: We have an intrinsic desire to commune with like-minded people. Nothing wrong there.
But the story depicts an Abraham who behaves incredibly harshly toward another human being, in order to illustrate a deeper concern that reaches beyond religious, moral or lifestyle preferences. I believe this story addresses our propensity to simply be impatient with people who behave, or think differently than we do.
Worse yet, it speaks of the danger of deeming ourselves better than others and choosing who deserves our (or God’s) grace and who does not.
I can’t help but think of the times we judge someone because they act contrarily of what we think they should, or lose patience with a loved one because they made the same mistake once again.
Indeed, how many relationships end because we choose not to give someone another chance, or are quick to dismiss a person’s individuality because it does not look like what we see in the mirror?
There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with a person’s choices. In the story, God didn’t agree with the man. He wished for him to change and acknowledge him as his God. But the man’s choices didn’t change God’s love for him. On the contrary — God’s love was long-suffering and patient.
It may be that your child is rebelling against everything you’ve ever taught him or her, slowly becoming the very opposite of what you hoped and prayed for. It may be that your spouse’s stubbornness grates on your nerves, and maybe the very thing that attracted you to him or her in the first place is now a point of constant contention. It may be that your boss is a hard pill to swallow and, although you really need that job, you are about to tender your resignation letter. Indeed, maybe you are at the brink of throwing someone out of the tent.
If that’s you today, could it be that God is testing the purity of your love and the strength of your character? Because loving and extending grace to those who fit our preconceived mold is a piece of cake. But forgiving and loving the unlikely?
That’s what true love looks like.Lord, help me break free from all preconceived molds and learn how to love like you do! Click To Tweet
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