It’s been extra quiet around here while I’ve been visiting family on the East coast. So I’m super happy that Anna Broadway is willing to be here today. Anna is a local writer in the San Francisco area and has been a support to me throughout my time living there. I find her and her writing so courageous, especially when she navigates her Christian faith, sex and singleness. (Read her book!) I’m always impressed by her honesty and challenged by her. Welcome, Anna!
The night was like many other Sundays I spent at my church’s evening service — good, but unremarkable; worth the long subway ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan, but not especially memorable. For some reason, though, one conversation during the after-service coffee hour that night etched itself on my memory, as if my internal record-keeper foresaw that my own casual words would haunt me long afterward.
The coffee room was always crowded after the evening service, in part because it had only one door in and out, which limited circulation. That Sunday night, I had squeezed my way inside, but not progressed very far along the right wall when a woman I knew slightly introduced me to the man she’d brought. I couldn’t tell what their relationship was, but he seemed a bit old to have a romantic role in her life.
I didn’t know her well enough to have cared if he was pursuing her, but not long into our brief conversation, he had me bristling inside like an animal that’s had its fur rubbed the wrong way.
So when he made a comment that seemed particularly arrogant, I responded, “The Lord is kind to the undeserving.”
I meant it as a subtle rebuke — which he recognized, with some surprise. Oddly, though, my words to him have stayed with me all these years since, providing a prayer I often need. In my repetition, it usually serves as acknowledgement of small mercies. Red lights barely cleared. Tight connections made — possibly at the expense of impatience with others — iffy parking jobs that yield a ticket-free windshield on return.
In moments when I feel slightly ashamed of my actions, but humbled and grateful for circumstantial mercies, I find myself saying it yet again. The Lord is kind to the undeserving.
Sometimes I wish I could remember more about the conversation that prompted me to first say that. What did he actually say? Perhaps I was thinking of that verse where Jesus says God sends rain and sun on the righteous and the wicked alike.
Not long ago, someone challenged me for describing as God’s kindness something I was grateful for. Couldn’t God’s kindness also take the form of something I didn’t like? I didn’t have a good answer that day, but it seemed to she was talking more about goodness.
Though I can’t speak about the Hebrew, when we say in English that God is good, we’re usually talking about His commitment to our wellbeing and what’s best for us. Thus, something that’s very hard and painful in the present may one day turn out to be serving a larger, good purpose I couldn’t see at the time. Goodness seems more concerned with the ultimate — the conclusion we’ll reach when the story’s all told and we’re recounting it after the curse’s end.
But kindness usually refers to the more immediate and mundane. Even in our everyday use, it has more to do with a sort of above-and-beyond thoughtfulness for someone else that often manifests in a small act of easing their way. As the concordance in my old NASB translation of the Bible defines it, kindness can show a kind of tenderness.
Not until a crisis of faith late in college did I first reckon with how we call God good when the parking is close or the game goes our way, but question Him when tragedy comes to our homes. At first, God Himself seemed the problem. What sort of being helps with the trivial, but seems to go on vacation when you need him most?
Over time, though, I came to see that I could not reject the goodness of God despite the often baffling and even anguishing boundaries of what He permits. My question shifted focus. What kind of people glibly credit God for what some might just call good luck? Does it trivialize His goodness to praise God when we find parking quickly?
In the days when those questions were freshest, I spoke of God somewhat haltingly, feeling out words that I could stand on. But even questions that seem to singe your lips with the speaking cool in time. Though my early passion for God came and went, so, too, did the worst of my doubts. In their wake has grown something deeper, which doesn’t feel like it can be shaken or snatched. Sometimes the loyalty and love forged in all the years since I first said I loved God throbs with a vitality that makes me weep. He is so very good. And He is kind.
In the early years of my unwanted singleness, it felt like God had marooned me in a relational and sexual wilderness. On the brink of 35, it still tends to feel that way, but I’ve learned that even desert winds can be sweetened with sage and piñon. The desert I chalk up to goodness, but the sage scents of life I call kindness — almost as if God were rubbing two fingers against my cheek with a smile, the way my own dad still sometimes does.
So when I find abandoned furniture on my prayer walks — a cedar wardrobe, sewing table and rocking chair, just to name a few of my favorites — I can’t quite call it good, but it does make me feel loved and known by a very doting father.
The Lord is kind to the undeserving. I don’t deserve any of His gifts, big or small, but oh, how very grateful I am.