I volunteered at an obstacle course race for children, where kids had to run two grueling miles with mud pits, hurdling walls, and climbing ropes. I was stationed at a bucket-carrying obstacle, where I had to shout at the runners to make sure they carried their buckets of rocks all the way back to my post. (If they gave up and dropped it in the middle, I would have to get it, and I wasn’t about to carry any more buckets of rocks than necessary of me.) There was one kid in particular who just couldn’t figure out how to pick up the bucket in an efficient way. He’d carry it by the sharp edge of the plastic lid for a few steps before his fingertips would get too sore, and he’d have to stop and set down his bucket while all the other kids passed him with their buckets over their shoulders or in the cradles of their arms. This kid was on my obstacle for a good half hour, clearly frustrated and nearly in tears.
Once my obstacle was cleared of kids that needed to be yelled at, and he was the only runner left, I picked up a bucket, left my post, and went to meet him. I set my bucket down on the ground next to his, and showed him. “Here, tilt it this way, and you can grab it from the bottom. That’s it. Now stand, all the way up.” He still had to set it down and rest a few times, but we walked together all the way back to my post.
I Corinthians 13, the “love chapter,” first describes godly love as being patient. When you face situations that force you to wait, patience is the expression of believing that people around you—whether they are the cause of the wait, or just victims of your hurried irritability—are more important than whatever you’re rushing toward.
I believe there’s more to patience than simply waiting calmly when things are taking too long, though. Another word for patience is “longsuffering.” That word means picking up a bucket of rocks and walking alongside someone. It means teaching them to properly pick it up all over again, no matter how many times they drop it. It’s staying as an accountability partner, even when the addict relapses. It’s talking about Jesus one more time, even when the atheist denies you again. There’s a side of patience that involves saying, “I’m going to keep forgiving you, seventy times seven, until I see you cross the finish line.”
It takes people time to learn lessons, improve their character, or crawl out of difficult seasons. You can’t possibly know what unseen spiritual battle is being waged against them. We are called to suffer for a long time, though, because that is exactly what Jesus does for us (Romans 5:8).
“However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (I Timothy 1:16).