How much more of this can I take? The question has raced into my mind many times. And although it races in, it is not quick to leave. It simply comes to a halt, hovering there as stress tightly grips its hands around my neck and my heart begins to strike a faster beat. It wasn’t just one thing that forced this question, it was one more thing. We tend to call this “the straw that broke the camel’s back.” It’s something that is otherwise small but when added to a collection of surmounting pressures causes us to suddenly erupt! You’ve been patient, but that was the last straw. Enough is enough. If there was a pill for patience, now would be the time to pop it. But there’s not and that’s our problem. We run out of patience.
What an odd phrase; “to run out of patience.” As if patience were a food that is consumed until there’s none left or a currency that is spent until it’s all gone. We don’t say this about other character traits. We don’t say that we’ve run out of honesty or run out of integrity. That sounds silly. I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we don’t really run out of patience. What we really do is turn it off. We choose to not be patient.
I’m guilty of this. I could be more patient, but sometimes in the moment I choose to turn it off. I choose to make another’s actions the last straw. And as I shake my head, asking myself “How much more of this can I take?”, I hear God asking me, “How much more have I taken from you?” Those words are a straight punch to the gut if there ever was one.
How can I choose to turn my patience off, when I’m in love with a God who never turns His patience off when it comes to me? I can’t tell you how many times in my life that I have ignored or disobeyed what God asks me to do. Yet God continues to be patient with me. And I have learned and continue to learn to better follow Him. Consider the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Despite God’s great love, provision, and protection, the people still ran after other gods. Yet God remained patient with them. He remained faithful in His love even when they abandoned Him and had to correct them. Even through this, God’s patience remained on.
And His patience remains on for us too. In Scripture, one of the Greek words for patience is makrothumia, which means “long temper.” Imagine an incredibly long candle wick which would take a tremendous time to burn. That is the kind of long lasting, slow to burn patience that God has for us. Generally, this kind of patience is often associated with love. It is out of God’s selfless, everlasting love that He extends patience to us even as we mess up over and over and over again.
Because God is able to extend makrothumia, it may seem impossible for humanity to be able to do the same. I mean God is God and we are not. But makrothumia is the same patience that is used in Galatians 5:22; it is one of the fruits of the Spirit and thus completely for us. It is ours to have and ours to extend others.
There is no straw that will break the camel’s back. When we remember the great patience that God has for us, we are compelled by His deep love to extend patience to others. It may not always be easy. We may clench our fists, bite our tongues, and feel stressed, but we can extend the long enduring patience that God extends to us every day.