May 18, 2009
Bearing With One Another
by Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3: 13-14
Sometimes I think the biggest stumbling block to living the Christian life exists in our interactions with other Christians. Those who profess faith in Christ are very capable of hurting each other – perhaps even unusually “gifted” at it.
Yes, fellowship within the Church can be wonderfully fulfilling, offering true glimpses of the unity we will experience in heaven. But (as life frequently reminds us) we’re not in heaven yet, so our relationships with one another often fall short of the “Beatific Vision.”
So what do we do when we’re faced with failure in our relationships, especially when our fellow Christians fail to meet our expectations? Much has been said about the necessity of forgiving trespassers. Scripture makes it clear we are to imitate Christ and show mercy to those who have wronged us, and counselors have written extensively on the personal freedom one finds in forgiving even the most terrible sins. But I think sometimes it’s not the huge transgressions that challenge us most. Sometimes it’s the smaller infractions that wear on our souls.
Perhaps you’ve observed imperfections in another that open personal wounds, rub you the wrong way or just plain annoy you. Perhaps there is someone in your life that consistently brings out your ugly side or whose presence simply symbolizes something you desire but have not achieved. This kind of pain is often absorbed interiorly. There’s no public stand to take, no 12-step program designed to walk you through. Over time, we may find that we begin to keep count of this person’s failings. We may catch ourselves gossiping about them or avoiding them in our daily lives. Each infraction is like a small stone that eventually builds a wall around the heart, a wall that stands not only between you and that person but also between you and Christ.
One of my favorite Christian heroes, St. Therese of Lisieux, faced such a situation in her community of cloistered Carmelite nuns. Behind the walls of her tranquil convent, relational strife simmered. Some nuns had maddeningly annoying habits that interfered with prayerful contemplation whereas others displayed a variety of mundane vices like laziness or sloppiness. St. Therese had a personal dislike for a particular nun who often acted unhappy and critical. She sought ways to avoid this person in her daily tasks – until she realized she was failing to love one of God’s children. Therese had personally experienced Christ's love, with full knowledge of her invisible imperfections, so how could she justify failing to love this nun just because her faults were visible?
As her heart changed, so did her actions. Therese chose to smile at this young woman every time she passed her. She displayed unusual grace in their interactions, always ready to help with a task or share a kind word.
The change in Therese’s demeanor did not go unnoticed. This nun made note to others that it seemed Therese had an unusual affection for her, and she began to return Therese’s smiles.
I realize I would do well to imitate Therese more often. I struggle with the small acts of charity, the little things that only God notices. Yet, the decision to love in even the most seemingly insignificant ways transforms hearts. And while Therese’s actions may not have brought on world peace, they brought Christ’s peace to her world.
Intersecting Faith & Life: While it’s good to speak out against wrong, some situations call for a silent gesture of love and grace. This week, perform a small act of kindness towards a person you find challenging to love. Remember that Christ knows all of our faults, yet His love never wavers.