Linda Hamilton is a bad ass. I definitely had a girl crush on her when she starred in the “Terminator” movies. I admired her complete transformation, both physically and mentally, from helpless victim to actively engaging with her protagonist. I always root for the underdog and the oppressed, I just personally never like the work involved to achieve the end goal, which brings me to the topic of this article. Is there a purpose in these hard places and particularly long-suffering, and what, exactly does being long-suffering mean?
Long-suffering is, without a doubt, a place of hardship, where reward or an end to the suffering seems unlikely. It can go on for months or even years. I liken it to standing in the waiting line of unanswered prayer for years and waking up one day and saying, “Perhaps God has forgotten me after all.”
In fact, if you are anything like me, you may find yourself in that place where you are doubting whether you even heard from God. Perhaps all of those promises you jumped on in His word weren’t really all that personal, not really meant for you. You put a date next to them in the margins of your Bible because you found yourself weeping over the words one morning and you thought God was speaking directly to you. But years have gone by and you’re still in the desert. You’ve seen other people’s prayers answered, just not your own. You’ve watched others achieve their dreams, just not your own. Still, you celebrated with them and for them. You didn’t allow self-pity or jealousy to darken your joy for others.
If you are experiencing something familiar, there is yet good news for you. God is not through with you. If you are still seeking God, still hoping, and still believing for a breakthrough even when you have set up shop in the valleys and salt lands, you are becoming Teflon Linda. Hard, resolved, and determined to stay the course. You are living out the definition of long-suffering.
Contrary to pop Christianity, we can’t just think positive thoughts and repeat affirmative prayers and all becomes well. Jesus speaks of a cross to bear and a cost for seeking to follow after Him: “And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it.” (Luke: 27-29)
It is hard enough to be in this place of waiting for a breakthrough or for your suffering to end, but what can be even more hurtful are the well meaning pop Christian messages I hear about how I must have some hidden, unconfessed sin in my life that is hindering my prayers. Or God can’t bless me because I am living in disobedience. Sorry, but it just does not ring true. God tells us His mercy is new every morning and that He is just and able to forgive us for our sins.
And what of those people I mentioned I personally witnessed having their prayers answered? Some of them were pretty awful sinners. I also can’t really believe the lies the devil whispers in my ear about how I must be the worst sinner on earth because God doesn’t grant or hear my petitions. Nope. I’ve been at this game way too long for that. God tells us that the righteous cry out and the Lord hears them. (Psalms 34:17)
I’m not immune to that pied piper who sings to me, “You’re the biggest sinner of all.” I just know it isn’t true. Break one law and you are guilty of the whole law. I also know that my righteousness is not anything I can do, but rather what Christ has already done for me.
Still, I find that I can easily sink into despair and be pulled around by my emotional collar rather than standing on His promises to never leave me or forsake me. God doesn’t make exceptions, even for me. I have to trust Him that there is something very important that He is doing with my character and my heart and that there is a purpose and plan for my life. I have to train and do the hard work, just like Linda, or Katniss. I really have a crush on Katniss, too.
This long-suffering is the driving force of why I must be in His word every day. I have literally been reduced to hanging on His every promise. And I am in good company. All of the great men and women of the Bible certainly did. I am ashamed to admit it, but I find hope in the fact that David didn’t actually become king for 12 long years after God chose him and anointed him as king. No, his testimony wasn’t, “I gave Christ my life, and He waved a magic wand over my mess and blessed me.” Rather, David hid in caves, fought, killed, conquered, sinned, and still blessed God and refused to let go or get ahead of Him. He ran from Saul and even resisted doing the wrong thing, even when given two opportunities to kill him. No, David is the man.
It is interesting that while David hid in caves, went hungry, and remained hunted, God told David that he was a man after His own heart. You don’t get this kind of heart living on easy street. People who possess this type of heart aren’t pampered, petted, or spoiled. Rather, they are heartbroken, weary, and battle worn. They are long-suffering. And like Job, they can say that, “though He slay me, I will trust Him.” (Job 13:15)
Unlike the brilliant yet confused contestant in the “Hunger Games,” I am not chanting, “Tick tock, tick tock.” I don’t have it figured out as she did. I must confess that I am more like Naomi when she returned to her homeland of Bethlehem with Ruth. She told them, “Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)
I am sure that at one point Naomi, like many of us, thought she was walking on the right path. She had a good family, did the right things, and honored God. She found her man, got married, and had two sons. Despite the famine forcing her family to flee to Moab, a heathen and strange land, she must have felt blessed nonetheless. She had her whole future ahead of her and she was a child of God, she was an Israelite. Yet, life was not kind to her. When Naomi returns to Bethlehem after the famine, she is broken and a little bit bitter. She is now a widow and her two sons are dead in a time when women could own nothing. Yet, it was through Naomi, that God chose to bring us the savior of the world through her relationship with daughter-in-law Ruth and ultimately Boaz.
If I fail to pull these scriptures out of David, Moses, and Naomi and read, read, and reread them, reminding myself of how God worked in each of their lives, they have no benefit to me. No matter that God is renewing my mind and training me for battle, which I do believe He is, I am still like the man (or woman) who looks at herself in a mirror. I walk away and I forget what I look like. And predictably, the devil yanks my emotional leash and off I go.
So what is long-suffering? It is hiding out in the wilderness, in the caves, and going hungry, just as David and Naomi did. It is filing off the rough edges of your pain while you mediate on God’s word and His promises to those who love Him. David hid God’s word in his heart. He mediated on it all of the time. You don’t mediate on God’s word when everything just falls into place. You mediate on God’s word when you have nothing to hang onto but His promises.
God promises to never leave us or forsake us, to complete the good work He began in us, and to never allow those of us who hope in His word to be ashamed. Like those great people of faith listed in Hebrews Hall of Faith, I too, want to be counted faithful to the end of my life.
I want to be like Teflon Linda, determined to face my battles head on with courage and determination. After all, He must be preparing us for something really, really big, like the end of the world or something.