Breathing Room

What is it about our curiosity that tends to crowd around victims of tragedy?


When someone falls down injured or a body is dragged out of the water, invariably on-lookers will form a tight circle of morbid curiosity. Those who are willing or trained to rise above this festering mob bend down to help while yelling at the crowds, “Give them some breathing room!”

Occasionally I have been that voice, but more often than not, I have to admit that I too have fallen victim to carrion-curiosity. Thankfully, such events are not the norm in my neighborhood, but what is much more common is the need to give others “space”.

It seems that we all need room to maneuver through life at our own pace. As my family continued our regular study through the book Wineskins, we considered introductory comments about how to approach others who’s views appear to conflict with Scripture. Considering that the book presents the biblical definitions and commands around observing the New Covenant, it has come time to face the reality that, as the Apostle Paul states regarding fellow Christians, “Not everyone has faith.”

When you discover an injured victim of sin, even one who is in shock and denial of their plight, are you going to gather with the crowd and gawk at their pain, or will you give them breathing room? Being the upright citizen of heaven that you desire to be, I’m sure you will incline yourself towards extending such individuals their needed space, but what kind of space will that be?

In the exposure of others failings, will you extend them patience or toleration? Both are methods for extending breathing room in relational conflicts.

That was the question I asked my wife and kids: In relationships with others, what is the difference between patience and toleration? When should we extend patience and when is toleration appropriate?

One of the things I love about the innocence of children is their honesty. As I gave time for audience participation, one of my kids acknowledged that they were not sure they could even define what patience was, let alone offer a comparison to toleration. I offered several real-world examples as a way to help them work through the distinctions.

One of the scenarios involved the use of hangers for laundry. My personality is such that I have a specific place for everything I own, including all the plastic hangers in my closet. I can easily tell if a pair of pants has not yet returned from the laundry by the nakedness of that lone hanger in the section with the other pants.

My wife, however, has a much more practical view of hangers: when in need of doing laundry, “steal” the empties from my closet and return the clothes with the hangers. Both systems have their merits. And, after 20 years of marriage, the need to expect my wife to eventually come around to my “superior” way of using hangers has gone the way of the dodo bird.

In what is a very trivial difference between us, I have shifted from patience to toleration. In other words, out of love for my wife (and appreciation for the fact that she is the one who most often does the laundry), I no longer expect her to eventually bring the clothes to the hangers. I still give her space to do things her way, and although I still admit to our differences, I willingly tolerate her method. I give her breathing room to do things differently without expecting eventual change. I can still find hangers disappearing from my closet and happily remain married to her. We have a difference, but as far as I am concerned, she can remain just the way she is. That is toleration. It is also a laughable self-disclosure of how amazing my wife is to put up with my obsessive hanger issue.

The above example is amoral. That is, it is not a moral issue; it is simply a difference of preference. Under such conditions, giving others breathing room can be either a matter of patience or of toleration. As far as hangers in my closet, I have come to the belief that it is a greater expression of love to extend toleration rather than patience.

For moral issues, or more to the point, for matters of potential sin, patience is the biblical method of extending space for others to work through their issues. If the circumstances are such that giving another person time to change or room to work through their stuff is deemed appropriate, then what God extends to us is the very same quality that we are allowed to extend towards others: Patience.

Patience is extending others time and space to work through needed change without demanding it at that moment. In that sense it is identical to toleration. The difference is in expectation. Patience sees a difference and expects eventual change, whereas toleration sees a difference and expects no change.

God is patient with all of us, not wanting anyone to perish, but all to come to a point of change.

God is patient with our errors and disobedience; he is never tolerant of the same. At some point of his choosing, his patience will be replaced. It will be replaced either with blessing, because we have repented and changed to come in line with his expectations, or it will be replaced with judgment, because we have refused to repent and have proved ourselves to be in willful rebellion against him.

On the battlefield of life, there are many wounded, many who need breathing room. Particularly with fellow believers, when you are confronted with evidence of their weaknesses, you have the opportunity to extend patience or toleration. Of course, there are times when Scripture calls for other remedies, but in terms of extending time and a measure of acceptance as they are at the moment, patience and toleration are the main options.

Be wary of those who claim to tolerate others who are practicing sin. Such an approach is not Christian, because it is contrary to the expressed character of Christ as revealed in Scripture. God loves us as we are, while expecting us to produce fruit in keeping with repentance; that is a trait of patience.

Let’s give each other some breathing room. And let’s do it in a manner consistent with the Living Word of God.

How has this difference in breathing room revealed truth in how you have been responding to differences in others?

About grahamAlive

Christian Author
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2 Responses to Breathing Room

  1. Tami Graham says:

    Hi – Now that I see more clearly how you like your hangers, out of love back to you, I will attempt to leave them where you hang them. You have been loving and tolerant toward me for 20 years, now let me try to do the same toward you. Your loving wife.

  2. grahamAlive says:

    Thanks as always. But the real question is whether the example was effective in helping you to recognize the difference between patience and toleration. The hangers were just the side-show, not the main event.

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