I was visiting a close friend of mine who is in the hospital getting cancer treatment. She was leaving with a nurse in a wheelchair to be taken down for radiation when her childhood church's priest arrived for a visit. She stayed to have him pray and bless her and then was on her way. She had asked me to stay to keep an eye on her laptop, etc. until her family came back from lunch. I had intended to get some work done while she was gone, but the priest settled on in. "Nooooooo," I thought. While I identify as a Christian, I'm not Catholic. I have never understood the reverence Catholics, in general, have for priests - I'm the kind of Christian who likes a church where the pastor is a passionate brewer of his own beer and has a tattoo or seven. But I've known some nice priests and am a big fan of a few Catholics in particular like author Henri Nouwen and of course Mother Teresa. And my dad. So, while I certainly have no "problem" with priests, I'm just not totally sure how I'm supposed to act toward them. Do I call them "Father?" That seems weird. Are we supposed to just talk about church and churchy stuff?
In any case, this priest decided he was going to make himself at home. I reluctantly put away my iPhone in an effort to communicate attentiveness and respect and we engaged in polite conversation. For, oh, an hour. Every ten minutes or so, I thought for sure he would leave. But he didn't. I was feeling anxious about the work I needed to do. And I was really resenting him for it. I also kind of thought maybe he'd ask me a question or two about myself - you know, in a pastorly fashion. Nope. He just sort of talked about himself and about how you get from one part of town to another. In great detail. I was starting to really feel put out. I wanted to get some work done! And I thought that if I wasn't able to turn my attention to my growing queue of unread email at least I could be having an interesting conversation. I started to get a tiny bit bitter that this leader of the Church had apparently no inclination to interact in a caring, others-centered way.
For all he knew, I was really emotional about my friend's illness. I was, actually...and I kind of would have liked to have maybe talked about it. Or prayed about it. But instead we were waxing philosophical about the various ways one can avoid the Squirrel Hill Tunnel. But then, I got a hold of myself. I'm a leader in the Church, too. Not in a priest kind of way, of course. But I know the gospel just like this guy does. And I know how to pay attention, listen well and extend care toward someone. I know how to set my own needs aside and focus on someone else. Why was I expecting that God provided this person in his frock to meet MY needs. Perhaps I was in the right place at the right time to meet HIS.
I made the choice to be kind. And as soon as I got rid of the garbage in my head that I was letting distract me, we had a lovely conversation. When the family returned, the priest asked for directions to the parking garage. I offered to escort him there myself. We got a little turned around in the hospital hallways, actually REALLY turned around, and it was my fault. To the point where I started to feel embarrassed about it - he was elderly and I was dragging him all over this gigantic building. But he was quite gracious and good humored about it. He kindly extended grace to me, when he would have been totally justified in being grumpy about it. We parted ways warmly and I felt happy that I had changed my attitude - it made all the difference.
We all know this, but we forget, so I'll say it. Kindness doesn't just affect the person who receives it. It changes the one who gives it.