Who are you when you think no one is looking?
We all probably know someone who loves to tell people that they are a “good guy.” They love to tell you about the good things they do for others and the sacrifices they make. They love to pat themselves on the back. According the them, everyone looks to them to solve their problem, everyone asks them for advice, everyone depends and relies on THEM. Of course, in the next breathe, they will tell you, “I’m not patting myself on the back here.” We all probably know someone like that. Chances are, if we were to dig a little bit beneath the surface of their “kind” actions, we might find a fairly selfish person who only does good for others when it serves their own best interest. Yesterday I was thinking about one such person, and it reminded me of a long ago conversation I once had with a priest.
I was raised as a Baptist. T was raised as a Catholic. After Andrew was born, I decided to convert to Catholicism to eliminate confusion as we attended church with our children. I became a Baptolic. 🙂 While I was in the process of becoming a member of our local church, T and I met weekly in the home of an elderly priest. He was thought of as old-fashioned and unnecessarily strict by members of the local parish. Having grown up with stoic Baptist grandparents, I quickly grew to admire the strength and conviction of his faith. He and I had many lively debates, and he never failed to listen to the point this Baptist girl was trying to make. I could start an entire blog just on those conversations, but the one discussion that came to mind yesterday was about acts of sacrifice and kindness.
I believe the discussion revolved around the Lenten sacrifices. I wondered what purpose it served to give up eating meat on Fridays if a person were in fact a seafood lover. Heck yes! I was happy to eat lobster or crab legs each Friday for 40 days! It seemed to me that a greater sacrifice would have been to warm up the leftover spaghetti that was sitting in the fridge. Wouldn’t God be more pleased that I frugally used my resources than to go out for dinner to a seafood restaurant that was offering great Lenten specials? He laughed, agreed, and told me to go eat my spaghetti. Oh, he was such a cool guy! I miss him as I write this. He died on Christmas Eve over a decade ago.
Our conversation led to a discussion on the true meaning of sacrifices and acts of kindness. We discussed the public sacrifices of Lent. Everyone loves to tell you what they are “giving up” for Lent. (Oh, I can’t have candy for 38 more days!) Everyone loves to grouse about not eating meat on Fridays as if it were some big deal. What do these things actually accomplish in the grand scheme of things? We talked about the greater value of acts of sacrifice and kindness when they are kept silent and performed privately. He told me about monks and priests of old wearing horsehair shirts under their robes as an offer of personal sacrifice. What would the value of that sacrifice have been if they went around announcing to their brethren, “Hey guys! Dang…the horsehair shirt I’m wearing is itching the heck out of me!” Both kindness and personal sacrifice hold a much greater value when they are done quietly and without the expectation of accolades. I often think of that conversation as one of the greatest moments of truth and learning in my life.
Often in my life, I have been humbled by the kindness that has been shown to me by others. Often, the words of Father H have come back to me. Some of the most meaningful moments in my life have been due to the kind acts of people whose identity has remained anonymous. When Andrew spent weeks at the University hospital an hour from our home, complete meals were delivered to our freezer each day. Some friend organized people in our community to do this. I never found out who that friend was, and I never found out the identity of the people who took their time to cook for my family. That is the beauty of a small town where doors are unlocked.
When my dad died, someone brought the funeral plants and flowers to our home while we drove an hour to the burial at the family cemetery. To return home to that act of kindness, and a beautiful flower-filled kitchen, was so humbling. That act of kindness made me feel cared for on a very difficult day. There is no greater kindness than to show care for someone who is in pain.
Thank you, Father H, for your role in my life and for teaching me the true value of sacrifice and kindness. It’s easy to be a good guy when you know you will get a pat on the back. It’s easy to do what is expected of you. It’s easy to be the guy at work that people rely on or the neighbor with the funny joke to tell. It’s easy to put on a show, but the true test of a human being is in their actions when no one is looking.