The Well, The Neighbors, and Patience
Imagine if you will that you are the proud owner of an old-fashioned well. You know, the kind with the classic bucket-and-rope water retrieval system. The water of this well is cool, clear, and refreshing to all who drink from it. The only problem with your well is that while the water itself is quite good, the well never fills up any higher than a mark you have noticed, about 10 ft. down from opening at the top. Some days you draw more and some days less, but each morning you go out to find that the well is full again, yet still only up to the mark from before. “What a blessing this is, a well that never runs dry!” you think to yourself. And for days and even months you always find this to be true, and you soon become accustomed to having a ready supply of water on hand.
Your neighbors soon find out about your well of cool, clear water, and occasionally they come by in need of some of it. You think to yourself, “It’s just a couple of people, I can spare some of this good water.”, and so you allow them to lower their bucket and draw water from your well. Because of your good will the water level sinks lower than it ever has before, so much so that you can start to see sand and small rocks at the bottom. Thankfully, however, you lower your own bucket to find the water hasn’t run out completely. Worried that your generosity has ruined your well, you rush out the next morning to the well’s opening only to find that the water has returned to its previous level, to that mark about 10 ft. from the top. Suddenly a wave of relief washes over you, that is, until you hear the approach of many people behind you.
Your neighbors have returned, each with his own rope and bucket, but this time they have brought their friends. They all now need to draw from your well, and as you begrudgingly allow them to begin doing so you notice that each passing bucket comes up with less and less water. As the people walk by you see that their buckets are increasingly being filled with small rocks and tan sand from the bottom of your well. You can scarcely hold back the anger and despair as the last neighbor leaves with their bucket filled almost exclusively with sand. You rush to the well’s edge and peer inside only to see the damage your neighbors have caused. The well is now at least 3 feet deeper than it was yesterday, the scrape marks of the buckets still visible on the walls and in the sand below. Your well is bone dry, leaving you nothing to draw for yourself.
You pass the night fuming at the greed and lack of consideration from your neighbors, and the next morning storm out to the well only to find the water has returned to its old level, to that mark about 10 ft. from the opening. After breathing a deep sigh of relief, you pleasantly realize that more water can now be drawn from the well at one time, although caution and good sense would advise one against repeating this process in hopes of having more water on hand. Several months pass, and the neighbors stop by every now and again to draw some of the cool, clear water from your well, but not in such great numbers as the day the well went dry.
One day, however, that all changed. You see, the neighbors showed up one day with their friends, their loved ones, even total strangers to draw water from your well. “Enough is Enough, they’ve gone too far this time” you think to yourself as you bravely take your stand in front of your well. “I don’t have enough wate…” you begin to shout when one of the strangers, a big brute of a man, shoves you aside and throws his bucket into the well anyway. Suddenly the crowds swarm the well’s opening, drawing bucket after bucket after bucket of the cool, clear water and trampling you in the process. Unable to break through to stop the frenzy you notice again that sand and rocks are being drawn from the bottom, and you think “Maybe they’ll stop now, there’s no more water, it’ll be alright by tomorrow morning.” As you limp inside in preparation of a night of parched lips and tongue you suddenly smell something burning.
Wheeling around, you see another of the strangers, a gaunt man with an evil scowl, has lit a stick of dynamite and is holding it over the well’s opening. “NOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!” you scream, but to no avail as the man drops the explosive and begins to run away. You drop down to the ground and cover your ears against the blast, which deep down in the well registers only as a muffled BANG, followed by the sounds of falling sand and rock. You hear in the distance the stranger snickering and laughing as he walks away with the last of your water in his bucket. Gingerly approaching the well’s opening, you peer down inside to see…nothing.
The walls of the well go down as they did before, past the mark 10 ft. down, past the place where the well had been scraped the first time, ending in thick black darkness. Terrified, you lower your bucket into the well, unwinding yard after yard of rope hoping to hear the steel clang against the bottom when suddenly you reach the end of the reel. You quickly fashion and light a torch and pitch it into the well only to have the cold truth illuminated for a brief second as the flame fell further and further, finally out of sight. The blast has broken through the bottom of the well into a massive, empty, underground cavern. The well, it seems, will never be full again.
The next morning you approach the well and half-heartedly drop the bucket, but no water. You try several times that day and the next, but each time it returns empty. The neighbors are nowhere to be found, and the random passers-by that approach you greet with a scowl and a gruff “I don’t have any more water for you!” You finally give up on the well, resorting to begging from others and buying whatever is available, but none of that water was as clear, as cold, or as refreshing as that you were so accustomed to from your own well.
One day as you pass by the old well you notice that something is different. Something has changed. You half-heartedly glance down into the ruined well shaft to find the water has once again filled the well, all the way back to that familiar mark, 10 ft. from the opening. Excitedly you lower the bucket and raise a pail of that clear, cool, refreshing water when suddenly the realization of what has happened falls on you like a thunderbolt. The deep, black cavern below the well has itself filled with water. Never again will you begrudge someone a drink from your well. You now have water enough for all, and to spare.
We have many expressions and images in our culture for the concept of patience. Typically, these expressions show the limits of our patience, i.e. “the end of my rope”, or “I’ve had it up to here”. We tell people they have the “patience of Job” yet hope against hope that we aren’t assigned an install date for that level of patience. We don’t mind so much sparing a few people some of our patience, but the real struggle comes when our patience is required, even demanded, by others.
There are days when our patience isn’t tested by anyone but ourselves, and it never seems to run out for us, does it? There are days when our patience is required by our neighbors. They draw and draw from our patience until it seems as if it will run out of they require it just one more time. There are days when our patience is required by our neighbors and their friends, when our well runs dry and they receive the sand and rocks of our impatience and anger instead of cool, clear, refreshing patience. At some point(s) in our life tragedy will strike, and it will blow a cavernous hole in the place where we draw our patience from, leaving nothing behind but rage, despair, stress, and anxiety. It may take time for our patience to refill, but when it does we will have access to a supply that no man can exhaust.
In Galatians 5.22 we are told that patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. Paul urged the Ephesian brethren to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” (4.1), which required being patient with one another (Ephesians 4.2). Paul would also instruct the Colossian brethren in 3.12-13: “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Brethren, let us never begrudge anyone our patience. Even when we believe we have none left to give. Even when tragedy strikes and we give up on being patient with one another. Understand that the only way to grow in patience is to use it, and using it at times comes at the cost of our patience running out. A proper love for our neighbors, friends, brethren, and strangers will inspire us to be patient: “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor. 13.4a).
Brethren, let us be more aware of how we draw from the patience of others. Stop drawing from your brother’s reserve before you notice all you’re getting in return is rocks and sand. Notice when tragedy strikes the well of your brother’s patience, and perhaps pour a little of your patience into their well for a change. If our patience is enough to change the mind of a ruler (Proverbs 25.15), what effect might it have on a brother or sister in Christ? “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1.16).
Brethren, let us remember the great patience that God shows us each and every day we draw breath upon this earth. His patience even in this very moment is for a very specific purpose: so that you might repent and turn to Him. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3.9). Just a few verses down we also find a further admonition from Peter concerning God’s patience: “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters.” (2 Peter 3.15-16a).