There was a time when I was much less patient than I am now. You could ask my wife and kids and I’m sure that they would agree. It really didn’t take very much to get my blood boiling and steam shooting out of my nose and ears back then. I was a regular Yosemite Sam (that probably dates me)! In fact, even at rest, I wasn’t far from achieving full-on beast mode. There were a number of things that had contributed to that state, but there was not, however, a single valid excuse. I was not only an angry man, but I was also a bitter man. Sin is sin regardless of the packaging.
Of course, in our fallen state, we are “prone to wander” from the paths of righteousness at any moment. Never is this more clear to me that when I’m behind the wheel of a car. As I began my commute, today was a day just like any other day. I was calm and at peace, listening to some Chris Tomlin and worshiping. I’m sure the irony is bringing a grin to your face as it is to mine!
Access to the highway I take to work is regulated by a set of “Go” lights. That’s what Ziglar called them because they control when you can go. They’re not there to make you stop, but rather to make traffic flow more smoothly. But I digress…. These lights give me access to a four-lane highway from a residential street. Unfortunately, the lights do not remain green for very long. And when attempting to turn left you must yield to traffic going straight, but not to traffic turning right as we each have a lane into which we can merge safely. If there are more than two or three cars going straight, you could be forced to sit through a green light without being able to go. This morning the lady in front of me didn’t pull out into the intersection and we were forced to sit through the light. Now at this point, I calmly continued my worship. Yay for me!
The light turned green and again as she waited… and waited… for cars turning right. There wasn’t any traffic coming straight! We don’t have to yield! As the seconds ticked away I could see that I was going to spend another minute or two at this light. Then all of a sudden Yosemite Sam blew! Old Faithful had once again proved reliable. Peevishly, I sounded my car’s horn when it became obvious that the last car from the other side was turning right. Finally, the woman pulled into the intersection. I, and the driver behind me, also pulled into the intersection as that crimson hue made its already-scheduled appearance.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had allowed one of my baser realities to sneak past my defenses. I had let my guard down. That scene in A Few Good Men when Nicholson tells Cruise that he “can’t handle the truth” comes to mind. In that scene, Nicholson says that “we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns.” We have lots of walls. We build them to protect ourselves from being hurt. And sometimes we build them to protect others from ourselves, our sinful nature being as it is.
The former walls need to be torn down. If we never risk being hurt, then we will never know the full joy of living. If we never let people inside this wall enabling them to see who we really are, then we, in turn, can’t get to know others. God created us to be in relationships, first with Him, but then with each other. As scary as that may sound, we find ourselves fighting against God by ignoring that purpose.
The latter walls need to be built up and reinforced. They need to be guarded. Paul exhorts us, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Romans 6:12, ESV emphasis mine). Our relationships with others can be endangered by our inability to “let the peace of Christ rule in [our] hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body” (Colossians 3:15, ESV emphasis mine).
I discussed this with the Lord while I finished my short commute. It became clear to me that the root cause of impatience is selfishness. We are more concerned about our rights than the rights of the other person. In Philippians, well known for its theme of joy, Paul encourages us “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV).
The anger that raged inside of me years ago was fueled by selfishness. The impatience at the “Go” light this morning… selfishness. Perhaps we are afraid that if we put others first we will become doormats, constantly stepped on and muddied. Maybe we’re just afraid that we will miss out on something great. Maybe deep down in our heart we simply don’t want the other person to get something that we desire. Selfishness. Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus encouraged us, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20, ESV). Whether it’s obtaining the latest tech before someone else or capturing two minutes less of travel time on our commute, we need to be willing to put others first. None of those things will matter tomorrow. But we can carry the fruit of the Spirit with us wherever we go, and that fruit will never go bad.