26 April 2013 by Timothy Tai CM-
“I can’t stand that person! He’s just so ____ (fill in the blank)!” Have you ever uttered those words before?
I don’t know about you, but I really can’t stand rude and reckless drivers. There were plenty of them where I lived in New York City and there are plenty of them here in KL as well! Maybe you don’t have that problem where you reside but I’m sure that there are people in your neighborhood, college or office that you find it hard to get along with. Perhaps the person that you find it most difficult to bear with is an unreasonable boss, a backstabbing colleague or a bad-tempered acquaintance.
Whatever (or whoever) the thorn in your side may be, how should we as Christ-followers respond? Is there even a right way of putting up with people that we can’t stand? We know the right and cliché answer is that we are to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves” but what does that look like in real life? Are we supposed to just smile and wave happily at all the drivers who jump the queue ahead of us in traffic?
In his classic book ‘The Imitation of Christ’, Thomas Kempis dealt with this issue in the chapter entitled ‘Of Bearing with the Faults of Others’ and it’s ever so relevant to us today. Because the early English translation of the book is rather hard to read, I took the liberty of writing my own modern version of that chapter (with a few added personal thoughts in italics):
Of Bearing with the Faults of Others
Until God ordains otherwise, we ought to bear patiently with the many faults, annoying habits and undesirable character traits that we cannot change in ourselves and in other people. Think of it this way – maybe it is meant to try our patience and to test us because our merits would be of little worth without these trials (Think about it. Would our claims of being a patient driver be true if we were never tested by all the crazy drivers around us?). Nevertheless, whenever we are aggravated or provoked to anger either by our own faults or by the failings of others, we should earnestly pray to God that He would help us to bear them with a good attitude and with the right spirit.
If you have admonished or corrected someone a few times but he still refuses to heed your counsel, don’t waste your time striving or arguing with him. Instead, commit everything to God and pray for God’s will to be done and for His honor to be displayed in His servants. He is God after all and He knows full well how to turn evil to good. Do your best to be patient in putting up with the flaws and shortcomings of others whatever they may be because you have many weaknesses and failures of your own that need to be endured by others (And if you don’t know what your weaknesses are, just ask your close friends and family members. They will be more than happy to point them out to you and tell you what they have had to put up with).
Furthermore, if you can’t even make yourself into the person that you would like to be, how then are you going to fashion someone else to your own liking? We are so eager and ready to see others be made perfect and yet, we do not make right our own faults. We want others to be severely corrected for their wrongdoings but when the tables are turned and we’re the ones who have done something wrong, we resist and even refuse correction. We are displeased to see others enjoying their freedom but we are dissatisfied whenever we are denied our own wishes and don’t get our way. We want to impose rules to restrict others yet by no means will we allow ourselves to be subject to restraint. It’s painfully clear how rarely (if ever) we judge others with the same measure that we use to judge ourselves.
If everyone in the world were perfect, what then should we have to suffer from others for God? But God has appointed it such that we may learn to carry one another’s burdens, because none of us are without defect, none of us are without a burden, none sufficient of himself, none wise enough of himself. It is necessary then for us to bear with one another, to comfort one another, to help, instruct and counsel one another. In the end, how much strength we have is best revealed by times of trial and adversity: for such occasions do not make us weak but show us what we really are.
Let’s go back now to our initial question. How we are supposed to bear with the difficult people in our lives? I hope that this has helped you to shed some light on the matter. Last but not least, let’s not forget the words of Jesus Himself as recorded in the gospel of Luke:
Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. – Luke 6:37-38 (NIV)
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. – Luke 6:41-42 (NIV)
Note: Timothy grew up in Kuching and worked in KL before jumping off the corporate ladder in 2006. He moved to New York City where he served at an inner-city kids ministry for almost 6 years. He has since returned to KL and has just married his Irish fiancee Sarah.
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