Did you hear about the teacher who was helping one of her pupils put on his boots? He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. By the time they got the second boot on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looked, and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the correct feet. He then announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue, rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to. Once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner had they got the boots off when he said, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear ’em.” Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry. But she mustered up what grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, “Now, where are your mittens?” He said, “I stuffed ’em in the toes of my boots.” I will leave it to your imagination as to what happened next.
A young man once asked Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, if he would pray that God would give the young man more patience. Dr. Barnhouse told him “I will pray that God will give you suffering.” The young man was startled and repeated his request. Barnhouse again said that he would pray for God to give him suffering and then explained what he meant by quoting Romans 5:3 “for we know that suffering produces patience.” Patience is the first thing most of us would admit we need, but the way it is normally achieved it’s the last thing any of us would want. Certainly there are those trials which come upon us that leave us numb and bloodied; the death of a loved one, or a tragedy out of the Twilight Zone. As I write this I am thinking of a wonderful family in Massachusetts whose oldest daughter, Kris, has been in a coma for several weeks due to Viral Meningitis. I am also thinking of the great sadness experienced by the family of one of my college roommates who died on Christmas day. They are learning patient endurance as they hang onto their God and His goodness through their tears. Please pray for them.
For most of us, however, our laboratory of suffering is more akin to a mitten in the toe of a boot by comparison. The annoying people at work or school, a selfish spouse, your ungrateful kids, demanding parents, or the frustrating people in your church who don’t see things the way you do. All of these situations are also the petri dishes in which patient endurance grows and develops. Why? Because God uses these situations to show us that everyone else is wrong and we are right, so we have to develop patience in order to live with these yahoos? I don’t think so. Rather, God uses these situations to show us our own loveless and selfish hearts so that we will humble ourselves before Him, repent, and trust His grace and mercy to change us to be more like Jesus. That is why Paul finishes his thought in Romans 5:3, 4 by saying “for we know that suffering produces patience; patience, proven character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by his Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”