“Who left the lid off the peanut butter jar?” “Couldn’t you read my note to turn the oven on?”
“I’ve asked you several times to clean up this mess. Can’t you hear? Company arrives in less than an hour.”
Does it take the wind out of your sails when ‘reasonable’ expectations are not met? Who has been entrusted to your care? Children, students, ailing spouse, elderly relative? How have you embraced that responsibility? How have you tried to evade or avoid it?
How do you handle disobedient children, unprepared students, uncooperative adults? Better yet, how do you react when a critical remark is made to your face about you or your child? Are you understanding when someone infringes on your rights? Sits where you usually sit; crowds in line at the grocery store; allows their dog to relieve itself in your yard? Or how about the terse “Get out of my way?” Let’s explore the silver lining.
I responded to my sister’s “How did you sleep last night?” with “A couple memories from out of the blue woke me up and kept me awake. The first one was a simple and trivial encounter involving one of my responsibilities as secretary to the Dean of Students in handling parking complaints. A professor appeared at my desk mid-morning furious that a car was in his parking space. “Find out who that is”, he ordered. “He has no right to park there.” And he hurried down the hall. I called parking patrol who traced the license number. I was the person who pulled the student out of class to kindly ask him or her to move their vehicle and to avoid parking in reserved spots. I was always glad to be the mediator because disgruntled professors and others may not be very understanding.
‘Impatience, coached by its cousin, ‘anger’, delight in camping on the tips of our tongues. We are all susceptible to losing our composure at times. Learning to laugh at flat tires, parking lots on freeways, dropped dishes of food, disgruntled children, people on the phone, not watching the light or tailgating, not only helps to neutralize those interruptions and delays but fortunately often creates hidden nuggets.
The second memory happened many years ago before worship began. A member whom I knew fairly well, seated close by turned toward me and said without a smile. “Ruth, you wore that outfit last week”. To which I replied “I did? And she added “And I can tell you what you wore the week before that.” My response to her surprised me as well as her. “Well, Martha, I’m so glad to know that. If you don’t mind, I’ll call you on Saturday night so you can remind me what I wore last week.” We both laughed. I could have said “Is what I wear your business?” I was always keenly aware that I was the Pastor’s wife, which served as a good zipper.
When we value a person, our responses should not offend them. If we listen to ourselves, some of our most loved people, often our children, hear hurtful sarcastic jabs from us which we might think are funny, but they aren’t. Or children are apt to hurl unkind retorts to sibs and parents. Careless comments deserve attention from parents and/or the other person. We encouraged our children to bring to our attention when they thought any of us were inept with words. Parents are wise to teach children to be honest about feelings.
Unplanned kind actions also qualify as hidden nuggets. When we: gift our place in line to a young mother with preschoolers in their baskets; donate a dollar or two to the person in front of us who has bought more than they can pay for; allow a speed demon to get around us; when we graciously listen to a long saga when we have little time; smile and find another place at church or class when someone has claimed our usual spot; hand a coughing person a cough drop, we are actually extending grace nuggets (kindnesses).
This final example of hidden nuggets will warm your hearts: Rewind to the mid 1970’s when Jim was immersed up to his neck in the bus ministry. He did everything he ever expected any other person to do. He shopped for used buses, became the mechanic, painted catchy names on the sides, and for many months, drove the bus to the city to pick up kids for Sunday School. Then he taught a class before he preached.
Jim had permission from the owner of a vacant lot in our development a couple blocks from our home to park the Purple People Picker Upper for safety and also save him a trip to the church. One evening in October, a call from a policeman informed Jim that our church bus had been vandalized. When he returned a couple hours later, he said he talked with the neighborhood teens and their parents; I knew them and occasionally had them in high school classes. Jim didn’t press charges. He could repair the damage. Case closed.
Now, fast forward forty-some years later to March of 2020. Jim died on March 25th. Just six days later a neighbor’s wife died. I didn’t know her but we had gotten acquainted with her husband, John, when our walks coincided and we chatted together about children and world events. So, I called him to offer my condolences and prayers because Covid-19 kept me from going personally, and told him that Jim had also died and that we were in the same boat. He said, “Phil wants to talk to you” and he handed the phone over.
“Mrs. Ward, this is Phil. I’m with my Dad for a week. I’m so sorry to hear about Rev. Ward’s death, but I wanted to share something that’s haunted me for many years. Do you have a minute?”
“I certainly do”, I said. “I’m so sorry about the loss of your mom.”
“Thanks, she was very ill. Mrs. Ward, I’ve got to get something off my mind. You know I was one of the teenagers who vandalized your church bus. I’ve been tortured over it.” “That was so many years ago, Phil.”
“I want to tell you what Rev. Ward said to us that night when he came with the policeman. My dad was furious and I was scared to death, and embarrassed that I assisted in vandalizing a church bus that belonged to a neighbor. And I could imagine my little bit of savings going for the repairs. Rev. Ward was very friendly and talked so nicely to my dad, mom and me. He assured us that he would not press charges. He could repair the windows and touch up the paint. I was so thankful and relieved.”
I just listened as with choked voice he got through his saga. I thanked him for sharing. He said, quickly, “That’s not the only thing on my mind. There’s more. I’ve gotta get this out! The next day at school when my buddy, Steve and I learned that our substitute teacher was you, we became very nervous. It was the first class of the day. We wondered how you would treat us. We feared you might embarrass us in front of the class and tell them what we did. But you smiled at both of us, as usual, and didn’t glare. We shuddered in apprehension but you were very pleasant. I’ve carried this experience on my heart all these years about what I did and how you and Rev. Ward treated us. He didn’t make me pay anything or promise to come to church. This has been a weight on my heart for years. I never said I was sorry, and I’ll never forget how kind you were to us at school. I have to get rid of it.” His voice shook. I could feel his angst.
“Phil, you and Steve were forgiven that very night. No one holds any grudges against you. We never shared your names with anyone. You have always been valued as a person. Our friendship with your dad and respect for you has never changed.” He was so grateful.
Hidden nuggets within an act of vandalism, indeed. I imagined that Jim, in heaven, heard every word and smiled about the example of the long-lasting life of extended kindnesses-the grace nuggets. The “as-you-are-going” unplanned assignments and interruptions which pop up daily blesses not only the receiver but the giver as well and is pleasing to God.
Extending grace begins with genuinely valuing the person, whether you know them intimately or not at all. Jesus views each of us this way. We, who experience daily dependable grace should be willing to extend kindnesses (grace) to those who fail to live up to our expectations. Lavishing neighbors we know and don’t know with grace does not mean we agree with their actions, words or negligence, but do care about them.
“But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Eph. 4:7 “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another." John 1:10 (NIV) “Being strengthen with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.” Col. 1:11
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy (principled) in all you do; for it is written “be holy, because I am holy.” I Pet 1:15-16 (NIV) The OT reference is: Lev. 19:9-18 in what is called the Good Conduct code toward everyone.
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ, himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, (forgiveness) comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word”.2 Thess. 2:16-17 (NIV)
The last verse of the bible states: The grace (forgiveness) of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” Rev. 22:21
We pray to a compassionate God: Thank you, Father, for your care for me, for keeping watch over me . Help me do the same for others. Amen