Some Larger Way

 In Character, Church, Faith, Fred's Blog, Relationships, Teaching, Theology

Listen to “Some Larger Way” by Fred Smith

 

Some of you know I have taught a Sunday School class for 40 years. It’s my anchor as much as my pulpit. For much of that time I taught on topics or passages I chose but then I put myself under the discipline of teaching the “lectionary.” Baptists don’t call it that but that’s what it is. It is the assigned passage sent from Nashville. There are times when I would rather break out and go back to being independent but I guess this is my feeble attempt at growing in sanctification.

For years, the word “sanctification” conjured up images of determined efforts to do better. You know Grant Woods’ classic painting, “American Gothic” of the dour and frowning wife next to her expressionless husband with the pitchfork in his hand? That was my image of a sanctified life. It was keeping the rules, living inside the boundaries, and narrowing life down to the point of making sin impossible and joy along with it. It was Sisyphus condemned in eternity to pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again.

Then one day a young friend asked me what I thought were the essentials of a lasting relationship. I had a list of things ready to give him but the longer I thought about them the more I kept circling back to one word: kindness. It’s almost too simple but it sums up all the other things on my list. It is the door that opens up all the other joys.

We talk about gateway drugs as those that lead to others and, at least for me, kindness is a gateway virtue that leads to other virtues.

Several years before my friend asked his question, I stumbled into a passage of Scripture that changed my idea of sanctification as a list of things to do and others to avoid. Instead of a list, 2 Peter 1:5-7 showed a progression of one thing being added to another and making a pattern of pieces that fit together like a quilt and not merely an accumulation of traits:

“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge;  and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;  and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”

It is not a prescription of duties and chores but an image of a life that grows and deepens. There is a beginning – faith – and an end – love. But after faith what is the first step toward love? The Greek word used here, “arete,” is often translated as kindness or goodness. Kindness is where we begin and that became, for me, the first step on the journey toward maturity.

What does it mean to be kind?

I discovered the truth about 19th century Anglican Bishop J.C. Ryle’s observation that while kindness is one of the traits that is the hardest to define and attain, it is precisely the grace which has the greatest influence in the world. Think about that. The influence of kindness – beginning with those closest to you and working out – may well have the most lasting effect than any other evidence of the Holy Spirit in your life.

Kind to my wife or husband. Kind at work. Kind with my friends. Kind with my children. Kindness that points people to God. Paul even goes so far as to say it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. That has been true in my life and marriage. Over and over it has been Carol’s kindness that has turned me around.

And kindness leads to godliness and affection, which makes the best introduction of all – the introduction to love.

Sanctification, unlike “American Gothic,” is not a burden but an adventure. After faith, simple kindness is the first step on the road that leads us to places, relationships and experiences we cannot plan for ourselves. It is not a narrowing of our lives but a widening only God could produce. It’s not a dull list of rules and restrictions but a discovery of what life is meant to be.

I love “The Old Walking Song” from The Fellowship of the Ring because it sums up the sense of a life that expands in the journey of sanctification. It’s a life of exploration, discovery and joy:

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.” 

I may not know where that larger way goes but I know where the best life starts: kindness.

Art by Jonathan Green

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Showing 18 comments
  • Avatar
    Josh
    Reply

    Sounds like your Carol and my Leigh, are cut from the same cloth. Although 8 years my junior she constantly out does me in maturity and for years has simply led with kindness. It’s funny that it’s hard to define, but so simple in practice.

    Being from the Pittsburgh area, Mr. Rogers was / is a model of kindness for me. Even at the risk of being seen as “cheesy” by some, kindness runs deep and true. Thanks Fred!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Josh. Any mention of Mr. Rogers is always welcomed. Both the documentary and the movie are favorites of mine.

  • Avatar
    Deborah Spencer
    Reply

    Thank you Fred! So true, and an important reminder.

  • Avatar
    Mario Morino
    Reply

    Great post Fred. With kindness you describe an antidote to the hatred, anger, and violence consuming far too many in today’s world. Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Tony
    Reply

    Well thought, well reasoned, and well said. As I am quarantined in Dallas working on a particularly contentious lawsuit all week, this is just what I needed to wake up to this morning!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Quarantines at the Four Seasons or at Red Roof Inn? It makes a difference.

  • Avatar
    Jack Modesett
    Reply

    Love is kindness in action. Thanks, Fred.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Jack. I thought love is never having to say you’re sorry!

  • Avatar
    Lori Drexler
    Reply

    Thank you, Fred! I look forward to reading your blog every week and often share with friends or family. So thankful the kindness of God leads us to repentance – hallelujah! May we be more like him.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, Lori. I so much appreciate your saying that.

  • Avatar
    Ken Merrifield
    Reply

    Thank you, Fred. I’ve had this word, “kindness” a lot on my mind these days as well. I’ve started to think about grace in terms of “truth & kindness” … still love the “unmerited favor” definition as well. I’m noticing as I talk to younger folks (20’s and 30’s) that “truth and kindness” seems to connect with them as they think about grace. You do tons of work with younger friends, what do you think about that? KM

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      I think you are exactly right. I am at a conference this week (Mockingbird) that is mostly young people. The speaker’s topic this morning was “anger” and how social media has rewarded anger and wrath – not kindness. It may not attract as many followers as anger but I much prefer kindness!

  • Avatar
    John Castle
    Reply

    Thanks, Fred. I’ve been involved in contentious negotiations over the past few weeks. And I’ve been reminding our team that we want grace to prevail, and it falls on us to show grace or kindness to folks who are being difficult to say the least. Yesterday I called the Board chair of the other team and asked what was really important to his side. I listened. And out of that conversation, perhaps a breakthrough. Sometimes kindness is simply listening and assure the other he is being heard. Thanks for you thoughtful and inspiring post. I think I’ll practice kindness more. Blessings!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      John – What a great response! Thank you for telling me.

  • Avatar
    John Sims
    Reply

    Thanks as always, Fred. Kindness is indeed a biggie, isn’t it? Often a challenge, always worth the effort — through random acts or otherwise. Keep the wisdom coming!

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Thank you, John. As always, your reading and responding is an encouragement.

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