I walked into my bedroom and sighed in annoyance. My husband’s closet door remained open, the light shone brightly, and several drawers of his dresser lay wide open—again!
Google “pet peeve” and we find all sorts of things that irritate us. Smacking gum, cracking knuckles, interrupting, talking too much, too loudly, or with your mouth full. Whiners, know-it-alls, nosy, micromanaging, and negative people also make the list. We seem to be a society that can’t stand others’ quirky behaviors—tapping, fidgeting, bouncing knees, standing too close, or grooming in public.
Our English language also demonstrates how frequently we are perturbed by others. She bugs me. His habits turn me off. They make me mad. Consider other ways we describe this feeling: annoy, inconvenience, aggravate, frustrate, exasperate, irk, vex, provoke, miff, pester, or rile.
I had a choice as I faced my husband’s closet. Would I let this bother me again? Or would I choose to forbear?
The apostle Paul tells us to “bear with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13). He also asks the church in Corinth to “put up with him” (2 Corinthians 11:1, Matthew 17:17). In the Old Testament, this attitude is translated as “overlook” (Proverbs 12:16, 19:11, Deuteronomy 9:27).
Forbearance (anechō in Greek) means to bear with, endure, or put up with those who irritate and annoy us, and overlook their quirks and shortcomings.
In modern day financial and legal settings, forbearance is “a special agreement between the lender and the borrower to delay a foreclosure.” It is also the “action of refraining from exercising a legal right, especially enforcing the payment of a debt.” Pastor Dan Miller describes it like this:
When Christian brothers and sisters bore, annoy, irritate, frustrate, intimidate, or exasperate us, such visceral responses are rooted in our own sinful passions. Forbearance reigns in those passions. It expresses enduring love for people our flesh wants to fight against or flee from. Forbearance is love in work boots.
And my friend and author, Carol Dowsett, adds:
Forbearance is a posture of grace. It recognizes that we all have limitations and failings and thus are apt to disappoint, frustrate and anger others. Therefore forbearance chooses to not be offended and is mindful to avoid giving offense as well.
Forbearance differs from forgiveness in that it comes first.
Forgiveness happens usually after we have been offended, after the wound has festered and needs to be healed. Forbearance happens before. It is a shield that keeps the hurt from embedding…We can only exercise forbearance in the context of humility. It requires us to be aware that we are more likely to offend than be offended. We need to know that our limitations and selfish ambitions hurt others often. Forbearance is actually and simply the golden rule at work. I sure want people to forbear with my failures, so I must also forbear with theirs.Carol Dowsett
I took a deep breath and remembered my husband must also forbear with me. I chew and swallow loudly. I leave piles of papers around. I collect too much stuff. And that annoys him. So, once again, as I do almost every day, I turned off the light and shut the door. At least that way I won’t see the drawers.
Father God, teach me and enable me to forbear with my fellow humans. Help me to humbly remember that I annoy and bug other people and they must put up with me. As I desire them to overlook my faults, help me to overlook the behaviors, actions, and attitudes of others who frustrate, vex, and irritate me. Give me your love and patience to overlook them.
Reflect and Journal
Identify the issue:
- Who bugs you? What is it about them that annoys you?
- Why does it bother you?
- What might this really be about? What does it bring up in you?
- What quirks do you have that others have to forbear?
- Who has to forbear with you?
- From whom and in what way would you prefer to learn about your “annoying traits”?
Deal with it:
- Accept responsibility for being annoyed.
- Pray. Ask God for forbearance.
- Don’t dwell on it. Let it go.
Besides personal reflection, a debrief with a neutral outside party, someone who listens without judgment, can sometimes help us accurately evaluate our annoyances.
Forbearance: A Greater Grace by Carol Dowsett
Forbear with One Another by Dan Miller
According to Pastor Edward Banghart, if we don’t distinguish between forbearance and forgiveness, “we will either live in a constant state of crisis or we will cheapen the miracle of forgiveness.”