Saturday, May 25

The Papa Bear of forbearance


AS my daughter was perfecting her baking skills in shaping and decorating some Christmas bear cookies, I decided to go for some light reading before retiring to bed.

There have been some tiring times over the month but the Lord bears them all when I think I can no longer bear those burdens alone. Indeed, His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are higher than our ways.

I came across this little story about “bear.” I think it is a great story for Christmas Day and food for thought for the coming year.

According to the story, a sick mother sent her little daughter to Church on Sunday to listen carefully to what the pastor was preaching so that she could come home to tell her the message shared.

When the little girl reached home, she excitedly reported that the pastor had preached about many bears but she could remember Three Bears only.

“What are the three bears,” the mother asked.

The little girl counted with her little fingers – the fruit bear, the cross bear and the image bear.

What were all these bears, you were asking and I was asking too? Of course, there are more than “three bears” in the Bible that we can learn from.

Probably, the bear taking the lead should be “Forbear” – we call it The Papa Bear which teaches and commands us to “forbear one another – that is forgive one another – and more importantly, forbear one another out of love.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines forbearance as “the quality of being patient and able to forgive someone or control oneself in a difficult situation.”

Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines “forbearance” as “the exercise of patience; indulgence towards those who injure us; delay of resentment or punishment; lenity.”

To me, these definitions can be hard to apply.

Consider this unfortunate incident earlier in the week. I was following the amendment to the Income Tax Act 1967 which has been interpreted to mean that religious institutions and organisations shall no longer enjoy all the tax holidays.

While it is legitimate that incomes from businesses should be taxed, the introduction of the amendment with its concomitant consequences could cause confusion and anxiety.

I had tried to obtain an explanation from the Inland Revenue Bureau (IRB). On a tight schedule to get the news (on the amendment) published to meet press time, impatience, however, got the better of me and I had some harsh words with the officer attending to me.

When the officer claimed I was harassing him, I responded by justifying that as a journalist, I had an obligation towards my readers in the public interest, and felt sorry if he thought I was harassing him.

When we are ignored, how should we respond? The beautiful response would be with patience, mildness of temper, lenity and delay of resentment. Or in a nutshell, with Forbearance – the Papa Bear.

This, indeed, is a big bear. If we can learn to “forbear” out of love, our example will be followed by all the other little bears – the witness bear, the fruit bear, the cross bear, the weak bear, the burden bear and the image bear.

While some parts of the world are embroiled in religious conflict, Sarawakians stand proud and united on their unique ability to co-exist in harmony despite their different racial and religious backgrounds.

This is the kernel of the “witness bear” that we should hold dear and cherish in our hearts.

We celebrate Christmas, Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Gawai and Deepavali by exchanging visits and greetings to foster goodwill and kindliness among our diverse population. And in this, the role of the Papa Bear is central.

Two weeks ago, I was drawn to a picture in the Sarawak section of a national paper, showing shopkeeper Mohd Jaya adjusting Christmas decorations at the entrance of Kedai Runcit Abdul Wahet, one of the oldest shops in Kuching.

Knowing the Sarawak section of the paper does not appear in their peninsular Malaysia edition, my passing thought was – ah, this would bear witness to their readers across waters of the way of life here since time immemorial.

“And as we have borne the image of the earthly, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” Isn’t this what Paul tells us?

Paul is, of course, driving home the point that we should “bear” the perfect image of our Lord.

Christmas can also be a time for reflection of the past and an annual reminder that God has been ever so responsive to our spiritual and physical needs.

His blessings have been in abundance despite 2016 being actually a year of disruption and chaos – from the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom to the election of Donald Trump as the US president. The world will see and feel the effects of these developments in the coming year.

Our hope for the best for our country too seems a forlorn quest – and why not, with the plunging Ringgit and continued debates on 1MDB issues and Hudud Law and the angst spawned by the amendment to the Income Tax Act 1967.

However, bearing in mind the benevolence associated with forbearance, we should not allow these controversies to goad us into responding in anger, frustration, bitterness and self-pity.

Colossians 3:12-14 says: “So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other; whoever has a complaint against anyone, just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.”

What we are is a gift from God, what we become is a gift to our Maker. Let’s make Christmas one long, extended gift of ourselves to others. Without reservation, be the fruit bear, the cross bear the witness bear, the weakness bear, the burden bear and above all, the Papa Bear of forbearance.

That’s the Anak Sarawak way, isn’t it?