God is Patient, Be Patient with Yourself
Alan P. Medinger
With what was surely a million other men, I was privileged to attend Promise Keepers' great "Stand In The Gap" gathering in Washington, D.C., in October. God blessed me throughout the day, but my most memorable moments came on the evening bus ride back to Baltimore. I got to share the ride with a true saint. Our school bus was crowded and so I was lucky to find a seat next to a stranger. My seat partner, Ed, was a quiet unassuming young man. He was a carpet installer who was married and had two children. He had been a believer for about five years.
We briefly shared our testimonies, and then as the conversation progressed it became obvious that Ed didn't think much of himself as a Christian. He contrasted my full-time ministry - he had heard me on local Christian radio the preceding week - with his life in which he felt he did poorly even in his role as a husband and father. But during our conversation it came out that his two co-workers sitting behind us were not believers, but he had brought them to the Promise Keepers event kicking and screaming. He lamented about the state of his non-believing parents, but he mentioned that he and his wife were leading them in a weekly Bible study. He also told me that his house was up for sale so that his family could move in with his in-laws and then his wife could quit work to be a full-time mother.
This man was doing things that I as a Christian of 23 years would be unlikely to do. On the Mall in Washington we men had been called to humble ourselves. With Ed I was truly humbled. What could I say to him? Praise God, I did say something which I think was helpful and which gave me my topic for this month's newsletter article. I said, with respect to his feelings of inadequacy as a husband and father, "Ed, be a little patient with yourself. God is patient. And besides, who are you to decide where you should be at this time in your walk and growth as a Christian?" This is a good question for all of us.
When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior in 1974,1 was in about the place that Ed is. Soon after my conversion I rushed out and bought all kinds of books about the Christian life, especially those that described how I could be a better husband and father. I tried to put into practice those things that I read, and over and over again I failed. I failed miserably.
Reading the books became like pouring hot coals over my head. I knew I should be the leader, the authority, the protector, the man of strength that my wife and children needed. But every failure, every false start, every abandonment of specific efforts at being the spiritual head of my family, every failure to follow through, every vacillation just drove home more deeply what a miserable failure I was as a husband and father as a man. Truly, the law kills.
Relief from the awful cycle of failure and self-condemnation first came when I read Leanne Payne's Crisis in Masculinity. I saw for the first time that I could not do the things that men do because I had never grown up to become a man. But what was even more freeing was the revelation that came through the Holy Spirit that God saw things this way too. He was not condemning me for my failings. He knew I had to grow up and He would be very patient as the process took place.
Patience is one of the clearest manifestation of God's grace. Initially, He accepts us just as we are, and from then on He models the perfect father, totally loving and accepting us while always urging us to change and grow.
Rightly understood, patience with ourselves can be one of the greatest supports we have in the healing process. Having patience with ourselves removes condemnation - but it does not compromise with sin. Patience does not have to do with the direction in which we are headed, but rather, with how long it is taking us to get there.
Patience does not say, 'Well, that's just the way I am." (see Regeneration News May; 1997). It does not just seek to find an "acceptable" level of sin for me at this point in my walk. God's standard remains absolute perfection, absolute purity.
Patience does not offer a substitute for these standards. It merely forsakes a self-imposed timetable for achieving the standards. Patience has everything to do with time.
Some years later I can remember saying to myself, "I've been a Christian for 10 years; I shouldn't be taking a second look at that good looking, muscular man." Perhaps you have said, "I've been in recovery for 5 years now; it's ridiculous that I still have this awful fear of male (female) relationships." Or, "There is no way I should still be struggling with masturbation after all God has done for me over the past seven years." My answer to each of these is, "Says who?" Who in the world is wise enough to be able to say when a person ought to be at a given stage in his or her development? Who can judge this about himself or herself?
I had parents who loved me, however my father suffered mental illness. I was never sexually molested as a child, but on the other hand I was exposed to pornography at an early age. I never suffered physical abandonment, but I was a terrible athlete. Your experiences may have been better or worse than mine in each of these things. Given all of these variables, and hundreds of others, who is to say when you or I should reach a given point? Only God knows the heart.
Patience implies hope. To be patient is to be patient for something. It is not abandonment to sin or immaturity. We are not being patient when we give up. We are patient when we acknowledge that one day we will be pure and righteous, one day we will be fully comfortable with our manhood or womanhood.
Patience properly manifested will be God-centered. Our many failings will be evidence that we cannot get there by ourselves on our own strength. We will constantly look to God who is forming the new inner man or woman. He is the only one who can change us. We will pursue God and trust Him to change us rather than pursuing change all by ourselves without Him.
Condemnation and shame feed into low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness. These feelings lock us into our old identity and drive us into our old sinful, often lustful, ways of coping. Patience is the antithesis of condemnation and shame. Patience frees us to grow.
Patience is a lot like forgiveness; it is a three sided virtue. We accept the truth that God is patient with us, and we become patient with ourselves. As we become patient with ourselves, we find that we have become more patient with others. Each facet of patience encourages the others and patience grows. Ponder this.
To know the depth of God's patience with us is to be submerged in His grace. Our wonderful, perfect, Holy God is willing to love me through all of the years that it takes me to become like Jesus. Thank you Lord.