(This is the second of two posts offering a free copy of the Gold-medallion award winning book Authentic Faith. All you have to do is subscribe to this blog, and a free download is yours. In honor of this generous offer made possible by Zondervan, this and the previous blog post have been based on one of the chapters from this book.)
I have a friend who in college was notorious for his brusk manner. He’s pretty intelligent, and a quick thinker besides, so he became the master of the humorous and quick “put down.” Then he married an unusually sensitive, amazingly empathetic wife. You couldn’t find two people more opposite in that regard, and yet they have enjoyed over two decades of a rich marriage.
Some years ago, my friend and his wife were under a mountain’s weight of pressure.
If you were to evaluate my friend from the stress scale—life events that contribute to stress—he would have been off the charts. One evening, my friend slipped back into his old style. He said something that ridiculed his wife. I missed it, but the next morning I received an email from him. In case I had heard his unfortunate remark, he wanted to express how ashamed he felt, how sorry he was, how much he loved and respected his wife, and how much he wanted me to know that he wasn’t still the same guy he had been in college.
What amazed me is that his email reminded me of what he had been like, but over the years, I had almost forgotten about that. God has so worked through this man’s life, that over time he has forged not a different personality, but a more mature one. The same quick thinking and good humor remain, but they’ve been refined, “baptized” so to speak, and are usually put to good use rather than bad.
My friend didn’t change overnight. He didn’t change in one year, or even completely in ten years. Change is a process. But where he is today is vastly removed from where he was twenty years ago.
One of the keys to this man’s story is that it took time.
Habitual sins—our’s, our spouse’s, and our kids’—often have to be “put to sleep.” Faithful obedience, over time, weakens temptation’s allure. As we begin to find new ways to deal with stress or insecurity or other “sin triggers,” we literally learn to live without the sin, which often serves as a crutch. One act of obedience doesn’t put a sin to death. The fact is, we will have to choose obedience time after time until the sin loses its strong allure. And even after that, occasional lapses are not uncommon, but the force and general direction of our life will have changed.
While I have seen God miraculously deliver people of various addictions, it is far more common to see people lean on God as he helps them methodically walk out of a sin. Rather than a sudden “ejection,” we often have to learn how to live without the sin. This can include basic Christian responses such as repentance, vigilance, discerning the motivations behind the sin’s temptation, and addressing the secondary issues that feed habitual sins. This latter approach takes work, effort, and cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. There probably will be times of failure and seasons of setback. But the mature Christian will not give up; she will continue to wait for the completion of God’s work in her soul.
Thus, the discipline of waiting is essential for two imperfect people who are raising imperfect kids. We can have a “talk” about inappropriate behavior, but that doesn’t mean the inappropriate behavior is immediately going to stop. We may have to wait.
This is true of far more than sin, of course. Waiting is, in one sense, the backbone of love.
If you love people suffering from Alzheimer’s, disabled people, addicted people, dying people, or imprisoned people—eventually love will require you to learn how to wait (sometimes, literally waiting until eternity begins). You may have to wait for weeks while someone you’re called to love recovers from a serious illness. You may have to wait for months as you patiently help a profligate spender climb out of debt. You may have to wait for years for an imprisoned but repentant person to be released from jail. You may have to wait for decades for a disabled person to finally be given a new “spiritual” body. But one thing is certain: if you’re called to love, you’re called to wait. There is no love without patience, no love without waiting, no love without hope. John Climacus, author of the seventh century classic, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, called hope “the power behind love.” Waiting is the oxygen of love, the virtue that gives love its sustaining power.
Perhaps you’re in the midst of a difficult relationship, pleading with God for deliverance and answers and direction, and all you hear is to “wait.” That’s the last answer you want to receive. You want God to move mountains on your behalf, and you want those mountains moving now. You’ve suffered long enough. Why can’t the marriage be healed today? Why can’t your child come back to her senses this weekend? I can’t promise you that the relationship will ever be healed, but I can tell you that many, many people have written to me or come up to speak to me after a seminar session, telling me how, over time, God worked a mighty change. Nothing dramatic happened in any one week, but steadily, over the years, God brought a gentle healing. All families go through seasons; sometimes, we just have to weather the difficult ones.
Waiting is never easy and rarely fun, but it’s what Scripture calls us to (see the previous post) time and time again. Are you willing to wait in your marriage?
[photo: Rudolf Vlček, Creative Commons]