I have been a slow learner most of my life. As a child, I was probably six years old when I finally learned how to tie my shoes (this was long before Velcro straps became popular). I struggled in math, to the point that in sixth grade my teacher threatened our class’s recess if I couldn’t do a fraction problem on the chalk board, because I was so slow. I had a difficult time figuring out how to drive and once, while taking driver’s ed, made a turn too sharply, headed toward a mailbox on the other side of the road, and then overcorrected and headed for a group of mailboxes on the other side! I always was one of the last to finish a test, even in college. As an adult, I was very slow in figuring out how to fix things. I had a friend who was in construction and I entertained him many times in my first few years of home ownership because of my feeble attempts in solving various plumbing problems.
Eventually, I became much better at a lot of things, but it required a lot of patience, both of me and others. Often, that patience was lacking.
When I think about my spiritual life, I can say the same thing—I’ve been a slow learner. I’ve been slow to trust God; I’ve been slow to obey him; I’ve been slow to learn the lessons he’s tried to teach me. Can you relate?
As I have gotten older and reflected more upon the entirety of my life to this point, what I have begun to realize is the immeasurable patience of God. If he were a mere human, I would have been toast a long time ago. He would have been so frustrated with me that I think he would have struck me dead just so he wouldn’t have to put up with me anymore.
Yet, that is not how he has handled my slow spiritual development. Instead, he has been abundantly patient with me along the way. While I often was guilt-ridden or self-condemning, he consistently reminded me of his grace and mercy. There were many times when I projected onto him my frustrations with myself, which only heightened my guilt and shame, but they were never his. He has stood by me and continued to bless me much more than I deserve.
Of course, there have been many difficult times where he allowed the consequences of my decisions to discipline me, but he never has given up on me. As I have been reading recently in the Old Testament about the adventures of the Israelites, it is amazing to me how patient the Lord was with them. Even though they routinely disobeyed his commands and forsook him for the gods of other nations, he didn’t give up on them. He disciplined them and they suffered consequences for their sin, but when they cried out to him, he wasn’t far away and it didn’t take him long to act. Time and time again, the Lord rescued them because he loved them.
When Paul defines love, the first characteristic he mentions is patience. John tells us that “God is love.” The Lord’s nature, then, is characterized by patience. The second characteristic of love that Paul mentions is kindness. The Lord is both patient and kind. What great news for a slow learner!
You may be reading this and can identify with being a slow spiritual learner. Or you may have someone in your orbit who is. What I have come to recognize, and which should be to any slow learner a beacon of hope, is that our God is much more patient with us than we likely can imagine. He is not like the human beings in our lives, including ourselves, who may quickly grow frustrated, and can often just write us off as hopeless. No, our Lord is willing to stay by our side for the long haul. Does he want us to learn to obey him? Of course. But be assured he does not quickly abandon us when we do not. It’s just not in his nature.
© Jim Musser 2019