The season of Lent began on March 1 with the traditional Ash Wednesday services, and with it, the usual dilemma over what to “give up.” I grew up attending a Methodist Church in Abilene, Kansas. We didn’t do the ashes or give up things. I knew about it because my grade school didn’t have a cafeteria so we ate lunch at the Catholic school cafeteria across the street. During Lent we had fish on Friday because their students had given up meat on Fridays for Lent. I wasn’t clear on why, but I wasn’t a big fan of fish sticks. Fast forward to adulthood and South Texas. Most Christian congregations mark the season through acts of contrition and repentance that begin with Ash Wednesday and the traditional cross of ashes on the forehead. We’re to do penance by giving up something for forty days and/or doing something that reflects our understanding of the sacrifice Christ made for us. Now that I understand, I struggle over my “sacrifice.” For a former vegetarian, giving up meat isn’t much of a problem.
This year I couldn’t come up with anything that seemed significant enough until I attended the Ash Wednesday service this past week. In his message, Pastor David Trawick talked about Lent being a time of mending our relationship with God. Not just the obvious stuff we do, but the stuff we keep hidden in the dark because we don’t dare drag it out into the light.
Heavy, right? I imagine a lot of folks sitting in the pews had the same reaction I did. We’re here every Sunday. We go to Sunday school. We read our Bibles. We do devotionals. So what’s you talking about, Willis?
Still, the message stuck with me, along with the verses:
God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. But those who do what is right come to the light so others can see that they are doing what God wants.
John 3:19-21 (NLT)
I seriously didn’t want to drag anything into the light. But as I thought about David’s words, an ugly realization slithered from the dark and squinted against the light. I confess I have not been kind when I leave the church and go out into the world. When I look back over the last two years, my biggest regret is that I have not always been kind to the health care providers who’ve had the job of helping me fight cancer. I wince when I think about how grumpy I became with the nurses during those first long days of receiving chemotherapy at Methodist Hospital. Don’t get me wrong. The waits were ridiculous. The customer service stank. But the nurses weren’t at fault. And there is never an excuse for being rude. By the time I was able to receive chemo at Texas Oncology’s Cancer Care Center, the pattern of behavior was established. I hated waiting. I was cold. My legs hurt. I hated the incessant beeping in the crowded infusion room that announced a patient’s medicine had finished.
Again, it wasn’t the nurses’s fault when the drugs were delayed in the pharmacy. Or the medical assistant’s fault the oncologist was running behind. Or her fault, patients were packed like sardines into a freezing waiting room.
I look back and I ask myself what my hurry was. I’m retired. I didn’t have to be some place. I just knew I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to have cancer. I couldn’t change my diagnosis, but I could’ve (should’ve) changed my attitude. I ask myself if any one of those folks at whom I whined would have identified me as a Christian. Did they wonder about that cross hanging around my neck? Did I shine a light for Christ on those days or did I make a day worse that was already overloaded with patients and ugly, deadly diseases?
No, it’s not a good report. Now that I’ve dragged it out into the light, I’m making my plan of action. I’m starting with kindness. My job is to practice kindness every day, but especially when I go to treatment.
In an article entitled “The Constant Distraction: Living with Chronic Pain,” Dr. Michael J. Easley, a pastor at Moody Bible Institute, provides several practical steps for how to live life while suffering. This is the one that spoke most to me: “Be the nicest patient your health care provider has seen that day . . . . It’s called ‘being a Christian patient.’ It is being the nicest patient of the day. Take two dozen donuts or some flowers to the doctor’s office. Learn the names of the staff. Dress nicely for the appointment. Smile. Look the staff in their eyes. Ask about their day, their family, or if it’s been a hard week. Thank them for taking your vitals.”*
Seems basic, doesn’t it? But after chemotherapy one day a week, three weeks a month for six months, I found it difficult to smile, let alone make small talk. Now when I walk through those sliding doors, I repeat these words to myself like a mantra, “Be the nicest patient they see today.”
It works. I know some of you are shaking your heads and wondering how I can call myself a Christian and not be nice all the time. How can I write Christian fiction, if I can’t practice what I preach? Christian does not equal perfect. As Pastor David pointed out on Ash Wednesday, scripture says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The question is what are we doing about it?
I commit to exercising my kindness muscle. I’ll bulk up with bible verses and random acts.**
Do you have something to drag into the light? Something you want to work on? Join me on this road to repentance that will end and begin on Easter Sunday. Share in the comments below. I love hearing from you.
*Find the complete article by Dr. Easley in Beyond Suffering Bible (Where Struggles Seem Endless, God’s Hope is Infinite) published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
**Visit http://www.randomactsofkindness.org if you’d like tips for bulking up on your random acts of kindness. The list above is theirs.