You know how for the last several years, it’s been popular in January to choose a word to define your year? My husband and I were discussing this trend with some friends over New Year’s brunch and laughing at the cushy choices many people make: “Rest,” “Breathe,” “Simplify,” etc. We wondered what the apostle Paul would have chosen. “Persecution?” “Hardship?” “Famine?”
“Why doesn’t anyone choose something like ‘long-suffering?’” Seth wondered.
From then on, we started joking that “long-suffering” was our word of the year, but what began as a joke actually turned into a serious focus. Once we started joking about it, we realized how much we—and our kids—desperately need it.
Of all the virtues, long-suffering might be the least glamorous. In our best moments, we might pray for courage or grace or generosity. But long-suffering? Not particularly appealing. I mean, it has the word “suffering” in it! We live in a unique moment in history: an era of smartphones, drive thrus, grocery delivery, TV streaming, and Amazon Prime. Never before has life been so convenient. Long-suffering? We don’t need that. When would we ever need to patiently endure trouble?
The Bible speaks to that. 1 Peter 4: 12-13 exhorts us, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”
In the Christian life, times of trouble are not to be avoided, but rather, embraced. With all of creation, we are waiting in eager longing for fulfillment (Romans 8:19-25). Being a joyful long-sufferer is part of the Christian job description.
As Christian parents, how do we become cheerful long-sufferers and teach our children to follow our example? Prayer, of course, is our first step. We pray for the ability to endure trials with patience and joy. We ask the Holy Spirit to come alongside us. We can’t do it without him.
Second, because our daily life is so convenient, I think we also have to look for opportunities to practice long-suffering. This is difficult. Sometimes it feels wrong to take the harder way when there are obvious shortcuts, especially in a season of raising children which can already feel like an exercise in long-suffering. How tempting it is to silence whiney cries (and our own internal groaning) during a wait with a packet of goldfish crackers or an iPad screen! How easy to buy all the gadgets to make life easier, faster, more pleasant. But when we rush to ease our children’s and our own discomfort with luxury, we are not preparing them or ourselves for a life of Christian long-suffering.
As we work on long-suffering in our family, I am trying to make conscious efforts to practice along with my children. The great thing is that almost anytime you give your kids a chance to practice long-suffering, it will be an exercise in the same for you! In practical terms, this means that I try, whenever possible, to take them along on errands rather than wait until the weekend so I can leave them with my husband and go alone. This means that I don’t bring a bunch of snacks and toys to entertain them while we wait at a restaurant or doctor’s office. I expect them just to wait (within reason, of course—snacks and toys have their place!). This also means that I am working on just waiting myself rather than pulling out my phone every time I have ten idle seconds somewhere. And this means that when we are uncomfortable, we try—albeit certainly imperfectly—to model, teach, and expect cheerful attitudes.
Dealing with boredom or discomfort only requires short-suffering, not long-suffering. But exercising patience in the little things is practice for the big things. The Bible is clear that suffering is inescapable in this life for the believer. Are we ready for it? Are we preparing our kids to wait cheerfully, to suffer joyfully? Or will our families head into those battles—whatever they are, and whenever they come—spiritually flabby and out of shape?
Long-suffering is probably never going to win any “most popular word of the year” awards, but I’m grateful for the fruit it’s bearing in my own life.