A husband and wife wander the aisles of a grocery store, she in the lead, he pushing the cart behind her. He did not want to come, but his wife expressed a desire for his company. Stopping by the spices, the wife scans each row. He wonders why the search is taking so long and impatiently asks, “What are you looking for?” She inarticulately mutters the name of a spice he would not recognize if pronounced clearly.
He feels a surge of irritability. “What do you need it for anyway? I’m really getting hungry.”
She snaps, “I don’t know why I asked you to come,” and tears off down the aisle, hurt and angry.
Suppose, after the husband first became aware of his impatience, he had thought, I’m feeling noble for agreeing to come. She ought to be sensitive to my fatigue. I’m asking her to look out for me — but God wants me to somehow encourage her.
The husband might react to these thoughts in one of three ways:
He might feel indignant that God would require him to be kind when he had already done more than his share of good deeds.
He might commit himself to doing better. But when he realizes that God requires him to treat her perfectly from a willing heart, he despairs. He lowers God’s standards to a level he can meet.
He might admit his inability to do what’s right, be shamed by his tendency to excuse an unkind reaction and plead for mercy. This puts the husband in reach of God’s transforming grace and makes possible humble efforts to treat his wife well.
Repentance and joy
The more we realize that our performance will never reach God’s level of perfection, the more our excuses shatter. Understanding how completely we deserve judgment, even for impatience by a spice rack, helps us see why God delays in administering it. God’s patience makes it possible for us to understand our sin more thoroughly and to learn deeper levels of repentance and joy.
Take the husband by the spice rack, for example. He was converted to Christ more than 60 years ago. I know, because I am that man.
Larry Crabb is a psychologist, best-selling author and founder of NewWay Ministries.
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