How Long Do I Wait? The Only Safe Rule

How long to wait person with clock

How long do you wait? Not, how long do you wait in the drive-thru or the phone queue before you opt out?

I mean, how long until you remind or text the “❓“ or ask again? Do you anguish over that?

Sometimes I do.

How Long Do I Wait?

Lots of times I jump the gun. Ask my husband. Too many times to count I remind him of what he knows and, in a little way, betray the trust. And ask my sister-in-laws about the cherry Butter-braids I bought and the Horny Toad dress I lent—times my reminders hurt, not helped, the cause.

Because patience is a thing for me. Because the initiator, performer me likes to move. But the Jesus follower me needs to wait.

Yesterday I struggled. I drafted a friendly reminder to a friend who promised to send some key details about a project. But I deleted the text. But since Saturday was prime time to get this ball rolling, a few hours later, I drafted a text again. And deleted it again.

I have not so great a struggle with my vices, great and numerous as they are, as I have with my impatience. My efforts are not absolutely useless; yet I have never been able to conquer this ferocious wild beast.

French reformer John Calvin said that. I’m with him. My family and honest friends would agree.

How many times have I reminded my husband only to find he remembered? How many times have I sent a “❓“ when my text to a friend goes unanswered only to find she was on it?

Wait Beyond Your Waiting Point

Too many. For every one time I wait beyond my natural “waiting point,” there are two times I don’t. Times my impatience betrayed my weakness. Because strong people can wait.

But how do we grow and gain strength? Physically and spiritually, it’s the same. We must push ourselves, stretch ourselves past the pain point. To maintain we can do what we do—I can run the same 4 miles every day and do the same 150 saddle-backed pushups every other day and I’ll maintain fitness and muscle.

But I won’t grow. In order to grow stronger or faster, I’ve got to run the mile faster, or go two miles longer, or straighten my arms and my back for those push-ups.

To grow in spiritual strength, we must leave our comfort zones too. In his divine power (see 2 Peter 1), we must push my “patience-muscles” to new limits. When I wait it’s because I remember the truth that in our struggle we grow strong.

That means for me to grow more patient, I’ve got to make myself wait—to send or say—to the point where I feel like I can’t wait a second longer. And then wait.

And the times I’m able to do that, it’s because I’m playing by this rule.

The Only Safe Rule

C.S. Lewis was dealing with giving not waiting when he offered this rule. But when I anguish over how long I should wait, I find in his answer my only safe rule. [Mine.]

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give [wait]. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give [wait] more than we can spare. […] If our giving [waiting] does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small.

Mere Christianity, 82.

That’s the rule. Spend more time waiting than I can comfortably spare. My rule of thumb for waiting is that if I don’t feel pinched, I haven’t waited long enough.

My rule of thumb for waiting is that if I don’t feel pinched, I haven’t waited long enough.

Love Waits

Have patience. Have patience. Don’t be in such a hurry. When you get impatient, you only start to worry. Remember, remember that God is patient too and think of all the times when others have to wait for you.

I won’t lie. I sing Herbert the Snail’s song more now than I did in third grade. I’m not sure if I’m less patient or only more aware of my impatience. But when I remember how often others wait for me, it helps me wait for others.

Because my impatience is not love. It’s preferring my pace to theirs, and my time as more precious than theirs. It’s not thinking of others as better than myself. It’s not love. Because, love is patient. Love waits.

My loving friend waits for me when I’m late for our coffee date. My loving husband waits for me with the car pointed out Sunday morning. And my longsuffering Lord waits for me to wait every single day.

I’m not what I will be and I’m not what I should be. But, thank God, I am more patient than I was. I am learning— to wait longer before I hit send, to wait longer before I ask again, to wait longer before I text the “❓“.

Remember that text I drafted and deleted, then drafted and deleted again? How I waited longer than “I could spare”?

Well, round about 6 o’clock last night, this came.

“Sorry, Abigail, that I didn’t get back to you earlier.”

God smiled.

And I was so glad I waited.

May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience, with joy…

Colossians 1:11

When Christians Aren’t Nice

Farm Dog

I wish I could like that woman, he said, shaking his head. But the whining and worrying and woe-is-me sure make it hard. Her sky is always falling.

I knew what my husband meant. Mrs. Olson was definitely an EGR.

Old Mr. Jones was an EGR, too. Both required extra grace. He was a crusty carmudgeon whose scowl could scare any smile away. And I do mean any. I’d watched bright chubby cheek toddler smiles grow cold and plenty of friendly greeter smiles disappear from his frosty frowns.

And he, and she, are Christians.

And let’s not forget one Mrs. Wallace. I know her inside and out. No one wants to be near her when her service gets showy and and her (little) intellect gets impatient or when her helping turns harsh and her eager zeal interrupts. 

Tough nut, that Wallace. She’s clearly got her faults.

And those faults, I happen to know, come despite the fact she listens to a half-dozen sermons and memorizes a handful of verses each week and leads a ladies’ life group and prays before she even gets out of bed each morning. Her lapses happen after all that. 

Those three, not always so nice Christians, raise two big questionsOne is reasonable. The other one is not.

The fair and right question first.

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously better, nicer, than they used to be? 

In a word, YES!

The Bible- Jesus and John and Paul-repeatedly affirm: A tree is known by its fruit, and No one born of God makes a practice of sinning. Transformed from glory to glory, renewed in the spirit of our minds, we make no provision for the flesh. We are to grow up in every way into him who his the head.

So, yes. It is fair to assume and expect every single believer will be kinder and more patient and more loving than he or she would be without Christ. Every born-again person becomes better. Better than who he or she would have been.


But what about Mr. Jones and Mrs. Olson and Wallace? What about the ones who are ornery and edgy and difficult and often EGR? What about them? 

Why is it your faithless neighbor seems so much nicer than they are? 

Shouldn’t all Christians be obviously nicer than all non-Christians?

Not necessarily.

In a chapter near the end of his masterwork, Mere Christianity, you’ll find a chapter called, “Nice People or New Men.” Lewis spends most of that chapter called explaining that it is, in fact, unreasonable to expect that Christians will always be obviously nicer than non-Christians.

Only God knows the raw material. Only he knows the mass of nerves and hurts and natural temperament and early environment and everything else that made EGR’s what they are. 

Lewis explains how,

[G]od has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Miss Bates the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right…  

We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones

But it is reasonable, he says, is to expect that Christ in his life will improve the old man. Jones will be more kind and Olson more trusting and Wallace more gentle, than each of them would naturally be.

If Christianity is true, Lewis explains, you can expect both that a) any Christian will be nicer than the same person if he were not a Christian, and b) that any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before. 

Lewis doesn’t leave it at that, though. He offers up a warning. 

A Warning For Nice People

You can’t expect God to look at Mrs. Olson (or nice Miss Bates) exactly the way we do, he says. If you’re naturally one of the nice ones, take heed. 

…If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. “Why drag God into it?” you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness.

There is either a warning or an encouragement here for every one of us. If you are a nice person-if virtue comes easily to you beware! Much is expected from those to whom much is given. If you mistake for your own merits what are really God’s gifts to you through nature, and if you are contented with simply being nice, you are still a rebel: and all those gifts will only make your fall more terrible, your corruption more complicated, your bad example more disastrous. 

And one of the expectations for nice folks is that they bear with the weak. 

A Command For Us All

Therefore as a prisoner for the Lord, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. Ephesians 4:1-3

Bearing with, or forbearing, means “to hold oneself back.” It means holding back your annoyance at Mrs. Olson and not telling off old Mr. Jones. It means listening to her worries and smiling through his frown. It means resisting the urge to get angry at one friend’s forgetfulness or irritated by another’s compulsiveness. 

Matthew Henry said it means, 

[B]earing their infirmities out of a principle of love, and so as not to cease to love them on the account of these. The best Christians have need to bear one with another, and to make the best one of another, to provoke one another’s graces and not their passions. 

We all have need to bear with one another. The frets and rubs are beneficial. Brushing shoulders with EGR’s gives us a chance to grow. 

We all know them. Look in a mirror if you don’t. We bear and forbear and if we cannot like them, we love them still. Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ

And if you look in the mirror and you see one, Lewis has one more word for you.

Keep Driving

But our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to subject all things to Himself, will transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. Philippians 3:20-21

Lewis concludes, 

If you are a poor creature-poisoned by a wretched upbringing in some house full of vulgar jealousies and senseless quarrels…nagged day in and day out by an inferiority complex that makes you snap at your best friends-do not despair. He knows all about it. You are one of the poor whom He blessed. He knows what a wretched machine you are trying to drive. Keep on. Do what you can. One day (perhaps in another world, but perhaps far sooner than that) he will fling it on the scrap-heap and give you a new one. And then you may astonish us all-not least yourself: for you have learned your driving in a hard school.  (Mere ChristianityNice People or New Men)

You’ve been praying and reading and worshipping and still you worry and hand out harsh words to the kids. Take heart. He knows our frame. God knows our wretched machines go and grow in fits and starts. 

God knows what hard things happened early in life to nervous Mrs. Olson. He knows that her compulsions and worries used to lock her up in her house. He knows old Mr. Jones, whose frowns can freeze the sunniest smiles. He came to faith late and now his furrowed brow eases out his violent old raging ways.

And He knows how much more harsh and impatient and puffed-up that Mrs. Wallace would be without God and all his means of grace. Just imagine me without the sermons and study, the fellowship and all that Scripture memory. 

He knit me. He formed me. He knows.

So press on and don’t despair, no matter the car you drive. Keep on, do what you can.

And know that we’ll forbear.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  

Romans 14:4