What's Tony Thinking

Bear One Another’s Weaknesses


Words from a prayer that I often used to begin a marriage service have been running through my mind of late.

Those lines included words praying that the couple might, “Accept one another’s differences, bear one another’s weaknesses, and so to live together that their love may allow life’s deepest mysteries to be revealed to them.”

We were together with all our family for Thanksgiving — quite a gift. Our son Nick had located a VRBO in Hood River, so all of us, Joe’s family, Nick’s family and Linda and I journeyed down to where Laura now lives and serves as a pastor. She’s in White Salmon, due north across the Columbia from Hood River.

Five of the six grandchildren (ranging in age from two to eight) were there. The oldest is away at school in Montana. Add in a couple of dogs and a few guests for Thanksgiving dinner and there was plenty of mostly delightful commotion.

My prayer before dinner was pretty much swallowed up in the commotion.

But one of things I asked that God grant to us all was the strength and wisdom to “accept one another’s differences and bear one another’s weaknesses.”

I can imagine that some might regard such a sentiment as suspect, if not an altogether bad idea. Why should I/ we put up with his/ her weaknesses? Such weaknesses should be overcome, fixed, solved, resolved. We should all be perfectible and perfect.

Well, it would be great if it were so (or maybe not?). And sometimes, over time, we do manage to address and make some progress on some of our particular weaknesses.

But Augustine had it right when he observed that, “The only way to be perfect in this life is to know that we cannot be perfect in this life.”

We remain flawed. Each of bearing our own weaknesses and asking others to bear with us. When we are together as a family we delight in the particular gifts and talents each brings to the commotion. And we are called to bear with one another’s weaknesses, which also tend to show up, at least by day two or three.

Why? Why should we be so forbearing (to use an antique word that I like). Well, I suppose that we bear one another’s flaws and foibles, in the hope that others will do the same for us, and the knowledge that many have done just that.

This, it seems to me, is the nature of family and human community. Not that we are perfectible — despite how perfect the Christmas cards that will begin to arrive soon may look — but that we “accept one another’s differences and bear one another’s weaknesses.”

Yes, of course, there are behaviors that ought not be tolerated and should not be borne. There are limits. But there’s a large grey area before we get to those clear lines.

The other evening I watched an interview with an historian of the Presidency. He observed that what we remember as greatness in our leaders are the times they were more, rather than less, open-hearted and magnanimous. We remember and honor the times that people changed their minds, overcoming a long standing prejudice or even changing a conviction in light of a changing reality.

There’s not much of that these days, in our polarized, my-way-or-the-highway, times. Which may make it all the more essential in our own lives.

The poet Robert Frost wrote, “To be social is to be forgiving.”

To be wise and humane is to have the capacity “To bear one another’s weaknesses.” We try to be patient with one another because God has been infinitely patient with us.



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