Sportswriters like to call fans of losing teams “longsuffering.” It’s an acceptable exaggeration. Even the most avid fans know, deep down, that sports magnify the importance of things that don’t really matter. Losing a game doesn’t literally make a spectator suffer. The only ones who have a right to say a sport has caused them pain are those who spend years chasing a dream for little reward.
Until four years ago, that description fit Erik Kratz. A member of Souderton (Pa.) Mennonite Church, he toiled in baseball’s minor leagues for nine seasons after graduating from Eastern Mennonite University. Finally, in 2010, at age 30, he got a major-league call from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Now he’s in the World Series as a backup catcher with the Kansas City Royals. Though Kratz rarely gets to play, certain fans couldn’t help but notice that the team that kept pulling off October miracles had Menno power in the dugout.
Kratz’s team defines “longsuffering.” The Royals’ 29-year gap between playoff appearances was the longest in North American professional sports. But it’s Kratz who more closely meets the biblical standard of longsuffering. He has been patient, or at least persistent.
We can credit the King James Bible for the longevity of “longsuffering” — and blame the evolution of language for the loss of its true definition. To modern ears, “longsuffering” sounds like it ought to mean “to suffer a long time.” But when people use it this way they end up referring to behavior that’s virtually the opposite of the original meaning. In theory, one who suffers a long time might do it either patiently or impatiently. In fact, sports fans typically demand that their suffering end immediately, or the coach must go.
Even if we’ve forgotten what longsuffering really means, patience remains an essential virtue. It’s among the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Gal. 5:22-23, KJV).
Patience is part of God’s nature: “But thou, O Lord, art full of compassion and gracious longsuffering and plenteous in mercy and truth” (Psalm 86:15). Believers are to practice it: “With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:2). As God is patient with us, we are to be patient with each other. This patience is a way of showing love, for “charity suffereth long” (1 Cor. 13:4).
In these scriptures, “suffer” has nothing to do with enduring pain. It means to allow, as when Jesus told the disciples to “suffer the children to come unto me” (Matt. 19:15). Thinking of patience as “long-allowing” can help us understand this Spirit-powered virtue. Staying faithful to a losing team might even be good practice for what’s really important.
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