By Pastor Glenn Pease
Homer, 900 years before Christ, wrote his famous epic The Odyssey. The hero Ulysses had been gone for 10 years, and his faithful wife Penelope had been waiting even though there were many suitors trying to win her love. Finally she feared he must be dead, and so she promised she would marry the man who could shoot an arrow through 12 rings using the bow of her husband. In the meantime Ulysses finally returned and heard of the trial for his wife's hand in marriage.
He disguised himself as a beggar and went to the place of the trial. One by one the suitors stepped forth, but they found they were unable to bend the bow. Then Ulysses came forward and said, "Beggar as I am, I was once a soldier and there is still some strength in these old limbs of mine. Let me try." The others jeered him, but Penelope consented for him to try. With ease he bent his old bow and sped the arrow unerring through the 12 rings. Penelope knew instantly, and she shouted, "Ulysses!" She threw herself into his arms. This story is one of the first, "They lived happily ever after," stories in human literature. It had a happy ending because both Ulysses and Penelope had a love for each other that was filled with the quality of patience.
In any great love story you read, or see in a movie, the key ingredient that leads to a happy ending is this virtue of patience. If the story is a tragedy, and does not end happily, it is often due to impatience. Gerald Kennedy, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, said, "As one grows older, one comes to the conclusion that more lives are destroyed by impatience than any other sin." This is illustrated by history. Lucy Lambert Hale, the daughter of Senator Hale from New Hampshire, was the most ravishing beauty in Washington D. C. when Lincoln was president. She was the talk of the town, and many famous men dated her. One went on to be a senator; another was justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme Court.
The 24 year old John came along and won the heart of this 23 year old beauty. It seemed a perfect match except for one thing. John was very impatient with her, and he demanded his own way always. They quarreled all the time, and even through Lincoln's second inaugural address. Things got even worse when Lucy danced with Robert Lincoln, the president's oldest son. Then came the straw that broke the camel's back. Lincoln appointed Lucy's father to be Ambassador to Spain, and she went with him. Later she married Will Chandler who was a Harvard man and Senator. John's impatience lost him a woman that he loved, and his reputation forever after, for he let his angry impatience lead him to murder. John was none other than John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Lincoln. Love gone soar is behind much of the tragedy of history, and love usually goes soar because of impatience.
The first thing we need to see is that everyone has some problems in relationships. You can't have a dog or cat who does not at some point make you angry because of something stupid or destructive they do. In a fallen world all relationships have problems of some kind. It is the price you pay to avoid total aloneness. So you will have problems with relatives, friends, neighbors, and you will have problems with your mate. It is inevitable. We have no examples of marriage in the Bible that are problem free. The first one should have been perfect, but it was not, and Adam and Eve set the stage for all human relationships to follow. Even God had endless problems with His bride Israel, and Jesus has had no end of them with His bride the church. The perfect marriage will not be experience until all evil is defeated, and we enter the sin free environment of eternity.
This ought to be clue as to why patience is vital to happiness in time. If you are going to give up and run out on a relationship because it is imperfect, you are going to spend your life running, for that is the only kind of relationship there is. There are limits, of course, and everyone recognizes there are sick relationships where the only cure is to dissolve them. There are far fewer, however, then the divorce statistics in our culture would indicate. Impatience destroys love, and this is a major problem in our world today.
The reason marriages use to last was because couples knew it took time to work out problems and adjust to each other. The reason they do not last today is because couples want instant solutions or they give up. Dr. David Mace, one of America's great marriage counselors, looking back over his career of 52 years observes, "One of the ironies of the decade is that young people talk about intimacy and relating skills, and yet their marriages are flying apart at an alarming rate. Older people never thought in those terms, and their marriages lasted a lifetime." He goes on to say that the typical young couple today does not want to hear the advice of being patient. They want a solution right now, and they are not willing to wait and learn.
Love that is patient will win, and it will learn to enjoy the mate they have chosen. Impatient love will demand instant solutions, and when they are not forth coming will forsake the relationship. Masses of people are divorced who could have saved their marriage with an exercise of patience. This is the key to maintaining all relationships. In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch and his daughter are discussing a school problem, and he is explaining what a compromise is, and he says, "An agreement reached by mutual concessions. In the calm of discussion and agreement is sure to be worked out by mutual concession, involving some give-and-take by both parties. The important word when arguments arise is patience. Wisdom is always on the side of the tortoise."
The most unloving thing you can do in any relationship is to make hasty negative decisions. You see it in advice columns all the time. Someone does a rude or offensive thing and people want to disown them, cut them out of the will, and never speak to them again. This is not love. This is letting your life be controlled by anger. If God would have let His wrath decide His plan for man, rather than His love, we would all be hell bound with no hope of redemption. But God is love, and that means God is patient, and He is able to look beyond the offense to the joy of forgiveness and reconciliation.
True love is not manipulated by the emotions and circumstances of the moment. It looks at the over all long range plan, and lets the ultimate goal be its guide. Too many marriages and too many relationships are destroyed because people are deceived into thinking that the negatives of the moment are all that matter. This impatient perspective pushes love to the back burner, and decisions are made on anger and frustration. Impatience is destructive of all love. I can see this in my experience of trying to learn the computer, and in trying to learn to play the piano. If you do not keep the long range goal in mind, you will forsake the whole thing in frustration. It takes time to learn, and if you are impatient you will give up before you learn.
If you let impatience dominate you, it will destroy your love for anyone and anything. Love has to be ever focused on the long range goal to keep you persistent in learning. Once your love ceases to be patient in its plodding toward a goal you will stop short of the goal and begin to lose you love. No doubt all of us have given up some goals in life because we became impatient, and because of it lost our love for the goal. All love on any level will be eroded and finally eliminated by impatience. Patience is the key to the survival of all love. This means all love is a matter of the mind as well as the heart. Love is an emotion, but it is also a matter of the intellect and the will. Love is a learned experience. It is not like breathing, which is an automatic function that we do not have to learn. Love is learned by example, imitation and practice.
If your parents never verbalized their love, you probably won't either. If they were openly expressive of their love, you probably will be as well. Your style of loving is learned by what you see and experience. If a child does not experience love, they do not learn how to love. Children are being conditioned by the love they experienced as to the kind of love they will express.
When two people have the same love style instilled in them they will have a much easier relationship to adjust to, but often couples have different love styles they grew up with. When they marry they have conflict and a lot of hurt, for they see their different love styles as being unloving. This is why patience is the key to their happiness, for it takes time to learn to understand the other's love style. The good news is that because love is learned new love styles can be developed to make couples more compatible, but it takes patience.
Mates are much like computers and musical instruments. If you do not hit the right keys, you do not get the response you are aiming for. You have to understand how to communicate with your mate just as you do a computer or instrument. If you do not, your relationship will be one of frustration rather than pleasure. Patience persists and does not give up because of obstacles. It presses on with determination to find the right key. It is committed to the ultimate goal of harmony and oneness, and sees all disharmony and conflict as an opportunity for learning what does not work. Two people committed to patient learning will overcome all obstacles.
Francis Hunter, the charismatic evangelist, deals with a lot of Christians in troubled marriages, and she writes, "Did it ever dawn on you that love, understanding and patience can do more to change undesirable characteristics than anything else? God removes the things from our lives that are not pleasing in His sight through His great love of us. When we find ourselves totally committed to Him, we want to please Him. In wanting to please Him, the things which we know displease Him fall by the wayside. The same principle is true of a husband-wife relationship. If we exhibit patience in loving our mates, and our love is unchanging in spite of their idiosyncrasies, they will want to change because of our patience and love. Try it on your mate and see what happens."
Paul says in v. 8 that love never fails. Why is that? It is because, as he says in v.7, "It always protects, it always trusts, it always hopes, it always perseveres." In other words, it never gives up because it is always patient, and so always optimistic about the future. The present problem is not permanent. We will get over it; through it, or around it and beyond it. This is love's perspective, and that keeps it going.
A good example of this is the enormous patience needed on the part of mates in overcoming problems due to sexual abuse. A woman who had been abused by her stepfather married a fine man, but then discovered that she could not return his love. When he showed her affection it would elicit the ugly feelings of hatred toward her stepfather. She sought counseling and began a long process of forgiving her stepfather. She tried hard to see his good points, and she studied all the Bible said about loving your enemies. She began to pray for him and for his repentance. She gave his a birthday present and tried to civil with him. The whole process revolted her, but she persisted because she wanted to be a loving wife.
Week in and week out she prayed and worked at her feelings. Then one day she saw her stepfather leaving the grocery store and go to his car. She was amazed that she felt no hatred for him, but had a feeling of compassion instead. She had conquered her hate, and love was now free to be expressed. She was able to love her husband and their marriage was saved. This was not a quick or easy answer. It took a long winding path to get there, but they made it. Only patient love could have saved that marriage. Had either partner lost their patient persistence the battle would have been lost. In millions of cases it is lost because couples are not patient.
Patience is so loving and God-like because you never know what changes life will bring that makes a bad thing good. This is often true in the world of love and romance. Joy Davidman, for example, was not a likely candidate to be the wife of a famous Christian. She was brilliant and had her college courses started at 14, and she had her Master's Degree by age 20. By 25 she had her own book published. Her father was an outspoken atheist, and she followed in his steps. She joined the Communist party in the 1930's, and she got a divorce. Most would write her off at this point, and assume she would have no role in the kingdom of God. But such impatience would go counter to the ways of God.
Joy was lonely and fearful when her husband left her, and even though her first published poem was about denying the resurrection of Christ, she became open to the possibility that Jesus was alive. C. S. Lewis said, "Every story of conversion is a story of blessed defeat." Joy was defeated, and all her arrogant brilliance and defiance of God had gotten her nowhere. She sensed in spite of her rebellion that God loved her, and in 1946 she surrendered, confessed her sin, and became a believer. She said that she was the world's most surprised atheist, for God took her into His family. She began to read the books of C. S. Lewis, and she saw her need to make Christ Lord of her life. She opened her heart to Jesus and felt that C. S. Lewis was the key person in helping her to become a true Christian.
To make a long story shorter, she went to England and met Lewis, and after a long courtship she married him, and made him one of the happiest bachelors in England. It is a fascinating love story of how two former atheists became two of the leading Christians of the 20th century. They have touched untold millions for Christ. But none of this would have been possible without the patience of God's love. Had He judged them in the early stages of their lives He would have robbed the world of great lovers of His Son, and authors who have led masses of others to love His Son. God is patient because He knows that often the best surprises are near the end rather than the beginning of a life. God can wait, and that is why He sees victories when others have given up. God-like lovers are lovers who can wait in patience.
The major mistake people make is in thinking that love always feels good. The fact is, love often feels awful and painful. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, and that was not a pleasant feeling for Jesus to die for the sin of the world. The world is filled with people who leave their mates because they don't feel love anymore. They have the foolish idea that the caboose is what pulls the train. Feelings are the caboose in our love for God and our mate. They are the after effects of acts of the will. Studies show that when people start acting like they love each other their feelings of love will return. If they are kind, thoughtful, affectionate, and patiently work through the obstacles that put a wall between them they can again have the feelings that brought them together in the first place. But people are too impatient. They want the feelings of love at the flip of a switch, and when it does not work that way, they walk out of the relationship. This is a rejection of the way God has provided for getting through life's valleys.
We exercise our muscles to keep them in shape, but seldom do we think of exercises our virtues to keep them alive and vibrant. Christians should select someone they do not like very much and start behaving toward them in loving ways to see how their behavior will change their feelings. If you start praying for one you do not like and doing loving things for them you will discover that acts of your will can change your feelings. It will be a valuable lesson to remind you that if at some point it is your mate you don't like at the moment, the thing to do is to not let your feelings lead you, but take control and exercise love as a choice, and do what is loving. This choice will restore you to a positive level of feeling. Loving our enemies is more often then we realize the challenge to be patient with our mate until they are again our friend. This is to be a God-like lover.