None of us wants to be the cause of another person's sanctification - at least, not unintentionally - and yet, so often, that is what we are.1
Is this one of the reasons that God allows us to become weak, dependent and forgetful as we grow older? Is it so we can place a necessary burden on those who were once dependent on us: a burden of forbearance and loving care?
Is this one of the reasons we may have to bear chronic illness or long-term disability? Why we may fight depression or suffer from mental disorders? Why we experience unemployment or material need? We may not want to receive others' charity and compassion, but in giving these, they grow into who they should be.
Is this one of the reasons God gives us personalities both winsome and challenging, attractive and off-putting, charming and awkward? Which of us would choose to have a 'difficult' temperament? But it's our unappealing qualities - uncomfortable thought! - that help others learn to love someone who's hard to love.
Is this one of the reasons we're not yet made perfect; one of the reasons that transformation happens so slowly? As we live with imperfect people, we practise forgiveness and forbearance, giving to them what God has far more generously given to us.
Speculation, I know, and raising all kinds of questions about God's sovereignty and our responsibility (yes, I am responsible to grow in godliness, not to persist in my ungodliness because it might help you grow!). In adversity, faith fixes its eyes on Christ and chooses hope, courage and love, not self-centred neediness (Hebrews 12:1-3). But it doesn't do this by a proud denial of need.
My instinct is to conceal my sin, make excuses for my faults, play to my strengths, and deny my dependence. What if, instead, I admitted my weakness, and gratefully accepted your generosity and grace? What if I served, even when the service wasn't perfect? What if, during times of helplessness and need, I practised contentment and received your help with gladness?
We are not strong; we are weak. We are not sinless; we are sinners. In our attitudes towards those who love and bear with us, we can choose to grow in humility, self-forgetfulness and joy. As we do this, we practise something far more significant: an attitude toward God that helps us to humbly receive his grace.
1. This odd little thought popped into my head while I was vacuuming. I suspect it has its roots in some novels I've been reading by the Anglo-Catholic author Elizabeth Goudge. While there's lots about her theology that I don't agree with, I am often encouraged by her moral insights.
This post first appeared in The Briefing yesterday.
image is by SanShoot from flickr