One of my many annoying characteristics is that I interrupt a lot. It’s probably why some people have wondered if I have a personality disorder, and why others have simply wondered if I understand basic manners. It’s a no to the first and a yes to the second, but I forget sometimes, for lots of reasons, that interrupting isn’t always the best choice.
Another of my annoying characteristics is giving unsolicited advice. It makes me a good teacher, because it comes from a place of wanting to share information to help people. I have very few other ways of usefully helping people, so I default to that. I can understand that it’s very annoying, even patronising sometimes, and like the interrupting, it’s not malicious, but it can make me hard to be around.
You, of course, have many annoying characteristics as well. I could keep listing mine, the above is not an exhaustive list, and we could probably make a long list of yours. Comedians have even noted that long-married couples can get to a point of familiar contempt that even the way their partner breathes can be annoying.
But what does this have to do with this time of global pandemic, a time of crucial economic, social and medical decisions? A time of great personal and social challenge?
Well that’s exactly it actually. A time of great personal challenge.
Everyone is stressed, and that already limits our capacity for empathy and patience. Soon and already many of you will be locked in your homes with your nearest and dearest, wondering why they have to breathe so very loudly.
For some, this may lead to dire outcomes. They are shut in with their abusers who may find any chance to damage them further… I can only hope and pray that help and alternatives will still be found in these times.
For the rest of us though, it’s not necessarily a time of emotional or physical danger, but certainly a time of many opportunities to hurt each other with an impatient word, or judgemental thoughts. And those things still matter. Especially of note is that they accumulate. Even for a person who doesn’t consciously “keep score”, we notice if and when blow after blow lands.
I know I’m very annoying, so I need people to be patient with me. But I also know everyone else is really annoying so I need to be patient with them!
So is that where we leave it? Another plea to be patient and kind? Such pleas are important, but can also be a bit useless. If I’m stressed and isolated and tired, if I’m at the limit of my emotional resources, how can I be patient with everyone else?
People try to draw strength from many resources in many ways, some useful, some the profiteering BS of charlatans. But I have learned two sources of strength through knowing God. They’ve helped me deal with many difficult situations already and I know they will continue to help.
When Jesus knew He was about to die and then return to the Father, He promised He wouldn’t be leaving His followers alone. He promised a Counsellor, the Spirit of God, who would live in our hearts, and intercede for our groaning spirits. The Counsellor brings God’s word to life in our hearts, minds and lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus. The times I am patient, or kind, gentle, slow to anger, self-controlled, or wise, I am empowered to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t need to rely solely on my own efforts (good! Cos I have about as much energy as a sausage sometimes!) nor on the strength of wishful thinking or crystals or being white and wealthy in an exploited world or any other power. I can rely on the power of God the Counsellor.
The other blessing necessary to me when trying to be patient and kind is forgiveness. Because I fail. I’m not always patient and kind. I screw it up. I resist what the Spirit is trying to do, I let my tired, selfish monkey brain take over and am only constrained by social habit from flinging poo. So, I also need forgiveness.
I need to be reminded that God forgives me. That because Jesus has dealt with the consequences of my failures and errors, God can sincerely and fully forgive me in a way that doesn’t just mean “I’m ignoring this for now but I’ll bring it up again letter in an argument where I’m listing your faults.” He truly and fully forgives. It’s a relief.
It also gives me the perfect reason to forgive others, or at the very least be patient with them. Unlike my relationship with God, the consequences of what I do and what I’ve had done to me aren’t always all dealt with, but I have been forgiven much, so it’s an abundance I can share from.
When I feel my shoulders tensing up because yet another friend has said something completely insane and unhelpful about the pandemic and how to fight it, I try to remind myself to be let the Spirit help me be patient and kind. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, so I’m not surprised that so many forms of ancient wisdom engage with the wisdom of taking a deep breath. I take a deep breath, a deep drink of the breath of God given to us, and try to let that fill me and change me before I let it out.
And when I screw that up, I ask God for forgiveness. And ask Him for the courage to ask for forgiveness for the person or people I’ve hurt as well. I don’t always get that right either, so the cycle continues.
But what a cycle it is. A cycle of breathing in love and breathing out forgiveness. A cycle of breathing in strength and breathing out kindness and patience. A breath that can’t infect anyone.
*I’ll resume part three of the current series soon.