When I was a new Christian I had a co-worker who was the bane of my existence. He was rude, cruel, and crotchety. He bullied other employees mercilessly. After witnessing his abusive behavior for months I had learned to avoid him. One day I watched him hurl insults as he suddenly cut the power on a piece of heavy equipment another co-worker was using. This caused the huge machine to stop short so that the man using it fell forward into it, twisting his body and resulting in what must have been a very painful fall.
I felt my righteous indignation rise up. I lost my Christian cool. In defense of the injured employee I lashed out uncharacteristically and swore at the tyrant, calling him a name that I’m sure I wasn’t alone in thinking. I will never forget the look of shock on his face. Had another person said it, he probably would have just responded with an equally abusive retort, but coming from me, he was literally stopped in his tracks. He never expected the timid, quiet, little Christian girl to say something so insolent.
I instantly regretted it, but I could not take back my words. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I had not acted as a Christian should. For days after that, I became his target. Where previously he would hand me his paperwork at the end of the day, he started coming in and literally throwing the stack of paper on my desk with such force that it would scatter across the desk and onto the floor. He said, “You called me it, so I guess that’s what I’ll be.” He took every opportunity to belittle me in front of others and to point out my hypocrisy. I felt awful. I thought I had ruined my Christian witness with this man and with all my other co-workers. In a moment of weakness I had destroyed my opportunity to show them Christ.
I confided to a friend what was going on. She agreed with me that his behavior was out of control and that management should have stepped in to curb his antics long before that, but she also didn’t let me off the hook. She told me to stop feeling guilty for the way I reacted. No, it wasn’t the right reaction, but the past was past. If you’ve repented, you need to move on. You won’t help the situation by wallowing in shame. Then she reminded me that it’s easy to love people who are nice to us; it’s very difficult to love people who are unkind. She told me he was the perfect opportunity to practice my Christian love. He was an opportunity to practice turning the other cheek. He was an opportunity to learn to be a better Christian. He was not an obstacle. He was an opportunity.
I took her words to heart. From that day forward I did everything I could to show him godly love. I refused to react to his negativity and hurtful behavior. I went out of my way to make his job easier. I made it a point to ask how his day was going. I inquired after his wife and kids, his hobbies, his frustrations. I prayed for him constantly. He began to soften up. Instead of eating alone at lunch, he started to join me and another co-worker. His anger subsided. He not only treated me better, but he treated everyone better. He started talking about his life; his hopes and disappointments. He showed an interest in my well-being and after a while he was not only accepting my efforts, but reciprocating them. In fact, I have yet to see someone, anyone, make such a complete turn-around in behavior that I witnessed in Arthur. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but somewhere along the way, I genuinely came to think of him as my friend.
I began to share Christ with him. I continued to pray for him. I told him he needed the Lord. He said, “I know, but I’m going to wait until right before I die.” I said, “The trouble with that is that no one knows how long they have.”
What neither of us knew that day was that within a few short months, my friend Arthur, would be dead. He was 36.
Truly no one knows how long they have. In fact, the day I had this conversation with Arthur was the last day he ever worked. I remember asking him that day if he was feeling alright because he just didn’t look right. He confided in me that he hadn’t been feeling well lately. The following day he called in sick saying he had the flu. He was out all the next week too. Shortly after that he was diagnosed with stage four Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
I had many conversations over the following weeks with both him and his wife during this time. I was as much of a support to them as I could be. I kept praying. I believed God fully for his healing. But this time, healing didn’t come.
His wife told me how much she appreciated my friendship. She told me that Arthur hated his job before I befriended him. Having a friend changed his whole outlook, she said. She would call me on the phone and cry about how difficult it was to deal with the whole situation and my heart just broke for her.
Ultimately, I think my friend died without knowing the Lord, but I am not the judge. I cried and prayed for months feeling I had failed him. But in the end, I know that he heard the gospel. What he chose to do with it was up to him.
I look back on him with fondness. He taught me one of the most powerful lessons I have learned in Christianity. He taught me to love even when someone is unlovable. He taught me that an angry and volatile exterior is often a cover for a vulnerable person who just needs a little compassion. He showed me that sometimes gaining a friend only takes being a friend.
Happy Birthday, Arthur.
In His Love,