I had a dormmate once when I was living in Osaka. To say that we didn’t get along that well would be an understatement. One thing that particularly bothered me was that he wasn’t very good at keeping his word. Namely, we were supposed to take turns cleaning the bathrooms, buying necessities such as tissue paper, toilet paper, etc. We agreed to do this when we started living together. However, while I would do my part, it seemed like he would never do his. I would ask politely, and if I got really annoyed, not so politely. And still nothing changed.
Sometimes, when we ran out of toilet paper, I just kept some tissue paper in my bedroom for my personal use, and waited to see how long it would take for him to get around to buying the toilet paper. It would usually take him several days to get around to doing so. In the meantime, he would sometimes put in a packet of pocket tissue in the bathroom instead, which I would very quickly snatch up. Very mature, right? No excuses, but I was very annoyed.
The thought that kept going through my head was, “This isn’t fair! Why should I always clean the bathroom? Why should I always buy the tissue paper and toilet paper?” I was right…and I was wrong. Obviously it wasn’t fair, but I also didn’t handle things as I should have.
Isaac apparently had a lot more patience than I did. He was living among the Philistines and when they got jealous of his wealth, they started plugging up the wells his father had dug. When he dug up a new well, the Philistines came and said, “That’s our water. Get out of here.” He moved on and dug another well, and the Philistines came and did the same thing. If it had been me, I would’ve been really upset. “This isn’t fair! I dug these wells. Why should these guys get full use of it? Why should I have to dig another one. Let them dig their own wells.”
But Isaac wasn’t me. Instead of complaining, he just kept digging wells until the Philistines finally left him alone. And eventually, he even made peace with them.
I’m usually a patient guy, but when things don’t seem fair, I lose my patience very quickly. But God says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18 (NIV)
To do that, we need to learn to accept people for who and what they are. My dormmate was very unreliable when it came to housework or shopping, among other things. I needed to learn to accept that, because there was no way to make him change. I tried to make him change and I failed miserably. Change can only come when a person wants to change. We can’t force them to change. And because of that, sometimes we have to put up with a little, or a lot of unfairness in our lives. But if we are unwilling to do that, we’ll not only lose peace with others, we’ll lose peace within ourselves.
Am I saying that if someone upsets us, we should never say anything? No. Say something once. Say it twice. But after that, let it go. Learn to accept them, warts and all. After all, Christ does the same with us. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 (NIV)
Paul was speaking specifically about relationships within the church, but how much better would our relationships in our marriages, our workplaces, our schools, and in our neighborhoods be if we would learn to accept all people as they are? How much praise would we bring to God if we could just learn to do that?
Lord, I’m a stickler for fairness. But life isn’t always fair, and neither are the people around me. Give me a patience I don’t have right now. Teach me to accept people for who they are, instead of trying to change them. Help me to extend to them the same grace and mercy that you’ve extended to me. In Jesus name, amen.