Many people I encounter, both church-going and non-church-going, tend to think my role as a priest is to teach people how to live holy lives. The expectation is not unfounded. When I was ordained, the bishop asked me several questions in front of the congregation. One of them was, “Will you do your best to pattern your life and that of your family in accordance with the teachings of Christ, so that you may be a wholesome example to your people?” Not only does the Church anticipate I will teach my community how to live holy lives, the Church expects me to exemplify how to live a holy life.
The reality of that expectation sneaks up on me sometimes. This week has been one of those times. On Sunday, I challenged our church community to participate in Random Acts of Kindness Week, doing at least three acts of kindness this week, and reporting back next Sunday. Just a few days in, two funny things have struck me. One, I have felt a pressure to do kind acts myself. As a servant leader, I need to set the tone with my own behavior. And so, I have been plugging away – purchasing food for our local food pantry, collecting prom dresses and accessories for a program that helps low-income teens, and writing some kind notes. But planned acts are almost easy. It is the everyday inculcation of kindness that I am not as sure about. Just two Sundays ago we heard the passage from 1 Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”[i] Although I may be performing kind acts, I have a bit further to go before I am living a life of kindness: of patience, humility, flexibility, and generosity.
The second thing that struck me this week is how often I have been the recipient of kindness since we started honoring this week. Already a parishioner has offered to cook me and my family a meal – just because. Another parishioner sent me a thank you note for my kindness and work on behalf of the church. Two classmates came to support me on Sunday, even though they have their own church homes. And the kindness is not limited to people I know. I have noticed people holding doors for me, waiting patiently for me as a pull out of a parking space, asking how I am doing (and really wanting to know). I am not sure if people are inspired by this week, or if they are already living faithful lives of loving-kindness. Either way, I find myself inspired by those around me, who are managing to be kind in the mundane parts of life.
If anything, this week is teaching me that the work of modeling faithful living will go way beyond a week. And although the intentional acts I am doing this week are great, they are just a small part of transforming my entire life into a model of kindness and graciousness. The other thing I am learning is that all of the modeling does not have to come from me. In fact, I am also a student of Christ, still on the path to learning how to walk in Christ’s path. The good news is that I have more than a week to master this transformation. In fact, Hickory Neck will be taking up a Lenten kindness challenge this year. I am so excited to see what forty days of living a life of kindness might teach me. If they are as powerful as this first seven, then Hickory Neck is in for some incredible inspiration. I cannot wait to hear what you are learning about this week too!
[i] 1 Corinthians 13.1.13