Bear with one another (Colossians 3:13a)
When I was in elementary school I had to take Speech. Not the class in which you're instructed on how to give a public talk, but the one in which you're taught how to pronounce your letters properly. You see, I had a stormy relationship with the letter R. I was solid when it came to important playground phrases like, "Red Rover, Red Rover" or with the lyrics to "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." I was also capable of enunciating the names of the lead characters from stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Rumplestiltskin, and Rapunzel. Trickier for me were words with an R in the middle or at the end. Like the word "word," for instance. Or the word "or." I had issues with "were" and "bird," and with "bread" and "thread." And, as you might imagine, this was a tough beat for a kid named Greg Funderburk—which from kindergarten through second grade I rendered as "Gweg Fund-a-book." It wasn't pretty.
So off I went one day to speech therapy with my friend Mac who had a similar problem with his Rs. Mac's last name, by the way, was Greer—also unfortunate under the circumstances. We left all our classmates and some of our self-esteem behind and headed down the hall to a small room nestled into an out-of-the-way corner of the school. Inside, we found a few chairs, a table, and the walls adorned with big colorful letters. However, a closer look also revealed a series of clinical illustrations, each depicting the proper embouchure and correct position of the tongue required to make the sounds of all the pesky letters of the alphabet in accordance with prevailing standards. A kind woman named Mrs. Joseph greeted us, introducing herself. We reciprocated by telling her our names and in so doing, made clear the scope of the task at hand. Under her patient tutelage we began, taking up the vexatious letter R with one another.
Eventually with Mrs. Joseph's help, Mac and I overcame our problems and moved beyond the ordeal. The key with Rs, in case you're wondering, is to place the sides of the tongue against one's molars and make a distinct yet subtle growling sound. "Rrrrrr."
What I recall most vividly, though, beyond our triumph over the eighteenth letter of the alphabet, was how Mac and I, despite our own lingual deficiencies and without a bit of self-awareness, used to make fun of the kids who had a hard time with the letter S. A lispy "Th" sound would invariably emerge from their mouths instead of the slippery letter S. Mac and I, as second graders, told ourselves we might sound like toddlers sometimes with our Rs, but at least we didn't sound like babies like the S kids did.
I tell you this story to illustrate something pretty common, not just in insecure, immature children as we were, but a problem that persists in all of us. We all have issues, shortcomings, and deficits that bother, trouble, and vex us about ourselves—but because they're our things, our problems, we're very sensitive to them and about them. However, when others are afflicted with very similar problems, we often fail to exhibit the same measure of sensitivity. Likewise, we're usually quite attuned to how others bother or offend us but not nearly so well-attuned about what we might do that bothers or offends them.
At the core of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and at the center of Paul's letters to both the Colossians and the Ephesians is the idea that we ought to strive to put ourselves in the shoes of others. God, in fact, seems to impress upon us time and time again in Scripture that we ought to make wide and graceful allowances for each other's faults, especially in view of all of our own. We ought to bear with one another, excuse each other's mistakes, ill-temperaments, and blindspots, and—here's the hardest part—forego the emotional satisfaction that's readily available to us when we put others down for the very same faults, mistakes, and guile we ourselves keenly embody. While criticizing others produces an addictive little elation inside of us, it comes at the terrible expense of corroding our souls.
It's not hard to find something that bothers or offends you in others. When it inevitably happens, instead of looking at the other person with such a critical eye and at yourself with such a graceful one, try saving the grace for them instead. Thanks to Mrs. Joseph, I can properly pronounce the divine word which encompasses this sacred idea: Forbearance.
God — Help me to remember it. Amen.
— Greg Funderburk