It’s amazing what a little undeserved kindness can do.
I have shared a very strange relationship with a young man over the last year and a half, one in which God taught me a little about unconditional, undeserved grace. I have not learned the lesson completely by any means, and have fallen flat on my face more times than I care to admit. But yesterday I saw the results of what it means to “heap coals” on another’s head.
I worked with this young man. Our working relationship started off very badly. I learned very early on I could not trust him, at least when it came to his tongue. He wounded me severely in things he said—not to me, but to others, about me. He was two-faced, and he liked to gossip. But as our working relationship required the two of us to work together very closely, I knew I had to find a way to deal with him. So, even though I didn’t feel like it, and still didn’t trust him, I cried out to God to enable me to love him. And God did enable me. And gradually—ever so gradually—I saw a change come over him.
What started off so ugly, God began to transform into something beautiful. We still had our ups and downs (some of them my own fault, I am sorry to say), and there was still sometimes tension and strain between us, but it soon became evident that we had developed what could almost be called a friendship. I soon realized I cared very deeply about him—he felt like a brother to me—and though he tried to conceal it, I could see he had a tiny tender spot for me as well, somewhere in his heart.
So when he announced to me a couple weeks ago that he was quitting, my heart just sank within me. I knew why he was quitting, and didn’t blame him one bit, for we were both extremely dissatisfied with our jobs (if there was one area we truly confided in each other, it was our frustration over the state of our jobs). I also knew there would never be anyone else who could replace him, and that once he left, I would most likely never see him again. I had learned quite a while ago to lay down any sort of expectations I had with this young man, so I wondered what parting with him would be like.
I agonized over the simple matter of even getting him some sort of farewell gift. I knew in my heart I had to, but had no idea what would be appropriate. I had to ignore the voices in my head that told me he probably wouldn’t even appreciate a gift. I knew I would never be able to forgive myself if I didn’t extend one last gesture of kindness to him. So I finally picked out a funny card, and remembering his coffee addiction, bought a $10 gift certificate to the nearby coffee shop that he frequented.
Yesterday was his last day. I waited till nearly the end of the day to give him my gift, long after other co-workers had already peppered him with cards and gifts. I was pleased when he broke into laughter over the card, but even more so when he turned to me after seeing the gift certificate—there was a look of complete surprise on his face. He thanked me heartfeltly, and told me I “didn’t have to do that,” clearly overwhelmed that I had bestowed even the smallest bit of kindness upon him.
But the most priceless moment of all came when he said his goodbyes, before walking out the door for the last time. First he wrapped me in a warm hug—something that I never expected. He had never shown any physical affection for me before. It was my turn to be touched. But then….when I looked up and saw tears nearly forming in his eyes, and his voice cracking, as he thanked me again for the gift I had given him, saying again “you didn’t have to do that,” my joy was made complete, and the journey we had shared together for over a year had come full circle.
We had been through so much together, he had wounded me deeply in many ways, and I never learned to fully trust him, but now here he was, standing before me, nearly in tears. Only God could have arranged an ending so sweet and satisfying. It was indeed an answer to prayer, for I had anxiously prayed all week long that my parting with this young man would go well. It truly exceeded my expectations. After gaining a little control over himself, he told me he sincerely hoped and wished I could leave this job soon too, and that he wanted all the best for me. I in turn expressed the same to him, telling him he would be in my prayers. It was such a tender, heartfelt moment, one in which we both seemed to break out of our normal reserve and say what we really wanted to say. And when he finally ran out the door, there were several goodbyes shouted between us, until he stood in the doorway, looked back at me one last time with a wistful look on his face, said goodbye, and waved.
Perhaps it is just the romantic, poetic and dramatic in me that savors such an ending, but I think God enjoys the romantic, poetic, and dramatic as well. For I could never have expected or scripted the ending that He wrote yesterday. Love truly does cover a multitude of sins.
I pray that young man finds Christ. That maybe somewhere down the line, if I should ever run into him again, I will see the results not only of undeserved love and grace, but of fervent prayer on his behalf, and that we can embrace once again, as brother and sister in Christ.