I finished my day today with a visit to my atheist friend’s house in our neighborhood. Regretfully his wife is dying. Cancer has overrun her body, particularly her brain. Stupid disease. The extended family has camped out for the duration. Hospice has coached all concerned about what to expect. Her body is shutting down. It’s only a matter of time. Once again the the specter of death haunts my 2014, though not at my own doorstep in this particular situation. Sigh.
My wife found me a card this morning to express our sentiments. A small potted plant seemed an inadequate but at least well-meant token to present at the door. For thirty minutes I sat with my buddy with whom I have had numerous conversations about the gospel, at least to this point to no avail, along with his son, and just sought to be kind in loving my neighbor as myself and feeling the weight of their grief. At this point, having said just about all I think I can say in numerous lunches, I am banking on the power of kindness to carry the day in my relationship with this man, whether he ever believes in Jesus or not.
The apostle Paul extols the virtues of love in his well-known treatise on the subject in 1 Corinthians 13. As he begins to describe its qualities, he leads off in v. 4 this way: “Love is patient and kind.” While it seems some in my profession can occasionally forget it, and Lord knows I admit my share of failures in this regard, kindness as a virtue simply must characterize any pastor’s way of relating with others at every turn. Consider 2 Tim. 2:24 – “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.” My sincere apologies to every one of you whom I have failed over the years in this respect.
As I was reading this evening a section of Alexander Strauch’s book, Leading with Love, I came across this illustration of the power of kindness. It comes from the life of St. Augustine who, in his book Confessions, testifies to the impact, even in his unconverted days, of the kindness shown him by the renowned preacher and bishop, Ambrose:
That “man of God” received me like a father and expressed pleasure at my coming with a kindness most fitting in a bishop. I began to like him, at first indeed not as a teacher of the truth, for I had absolutely no confidence in your Church, but as a human being who was kind to me (Strauch, 2006, 45).
My dear friend has little to no confidence in my church, that is to say, our beliefs. I pray his confidence in my feeble attempts at kindness may one day lead to an Augustine-like transformation in his life.
Someone has said “kindness is love in work clothes.” Let’s get to work.