A Parting Blessing of Hesed

By Ray Hendriks  |  May 31st

The word Hesed appears 248 times in scriptures and speaks to the steadfast lovingkindness of a faithful covenant God. A standard question on my Bible tests for intermediate grade students asked them to define Hesed. It was a theme word of our Old Testament classes. In English, it is represented in multiple different ways, but its context is love, faithfulness, steadfastness, and mercy. AND, it was a fun word because the opening sound is a guttural and rather harsh “ch”!

As I journeyed through my work years in the Christian school movement, I have discovered an even deeper understanding of Hesed. In fact, it is an attribute of God that is understood more fully as life’s experience deepens. It is one of the many ways in which God has functionally shown Himself in my life.

On a personal level, I have witnessed it as I have been surrounded by loving family who have been steadfast and faithful, committed throughout the travails and joys of my service as a leader. I have been able to witness the Hesed of our Lord as in the midst of my personal journey, as my wife became ill and eventually passed away. And then again when He brought a new life partner, my wife Marlene, into my life for this new stage of my journey. I have watched as He cared for my sons, and continues to care for them—this sense of Hesed is infused just a bit more deeply in my core being. I rejoice in His steadfast faithfulness and trust in His everlasting commitment.

My leadership journey has encountered many of the peaks and valleys experienced by those who lead. There are the memories of the student who couldn’t wait to share how I was her favourite teacher, and then, sadly, the memory of the times that I missed the mark with another student. There was the parent who shared that I was the reason they sent their child to the Christian school, and then memories of another parent who angrily stormed out of the office and withdrew their children when I was not able to meet their expectation. There was the teacher who proclaimed loudly that I was their favourite boss ever, and then the memory of the call from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that I had trounced on another teacher’s rights as I worked to uphold the beliefs of the school. There were the board members who supported so enthusiastically and joyfully, but also the day that I concluded that this support was less enthusiastic and joyful. Through all of this, the experience of Hesed remained. His steadfast faithfulness deepened in meaning each day; His unfailing love evident through each portion of the journey.

Culturally, we have seen the same things together. I recall the moment that the Ontario provincial government approved the Equity in Education Tax Credit (EETC). Our conference room rose in en-masse to sing “Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow”, only to be disappointed a few short months later by the devastating results of a provincial election and the newly elected party rescinding the EETC as their first legislative act. This gave us a special opportunity to understand the Hesed love of our Heavenly Father by embracing it first in celebration, and then, in understanding that we were dependent on our Heavenly Father and not on what might come from other sources.

Organizationally, I was honoured to be at the helm of an organization that had experienced 65 years of Hesed before dissolving, only to see our Lord raise up a new organization that embodies His steadfast love and faithfulness.

Hesed is a bone-weary principal who arrives before all others to deal with yet another concern that is on their desk. Hesed is the leader who spends day after day with reports and budgets and school closures and uncompleted lists of expectations. Hesed is an unsung pastoral heart whose long-suffering, tearful prayers keep their community front and centre before our God. Hesed is love that can be counted on day after day, decade after decade. It’s not about the thrill of romance and glory, but the security of faithfulness.

One biblical scholar (John Oswalt) describes it this way: The word hesed…[is] the descriptor par excellence of God in the Old Testament. The word speaks of a completely undeserved kindness and generosity done by a person who is in a position of power. This was the Israelites’ experience of God. He revealed himself to them when they were not looking for him, and he kept his covenant with them long after their persistent breaking of it had destroyed any reason for his continued keeping of it. …Unlike humans, this deity was not fickle, undependable, self-serving, and grasping. Instead he was faithful, true, upright, and generous—always.[1]

My leadership journey with Edvance is coming to a close at the end of June. It marks 39.8 years of employment in the field of Christian education. I look back with great love and joy on those years—much has been seen and experienced; each day a new adventure.

When I began the formal part of my leadership journey, on my first day at my new desk at my new job as principal, my Bible fell open to a passage of Scriptures where Solomon says “Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (2 Chronicles 1:10)  Today as I sit on the front porch of my home all these years later, I want to alter the question a tad by asking “who was I to lead this people of yours?” That answer is one that can only be found in Hesed: God has loved and been faithful to me and those I have led—He has been steadfast and reliable. It is in that knowledge that I take my leave, knowing that this Hesed will continue until Christ shall return.

For now, I look forward to a new trail on this journey with my Lord. I thought maybe I would rest awhile but there are many tasks awaiting my attention around the house. I thought maybe being a greeter at Walmart or perhaps a marshal at the local golf course would be a great new experience. My recently obtained Wedding Officiant license may create some opportunities to serve. But this I know with all my heart: as God has shown steadfastness, love, and kindness in the past, He will continue to be a God of Hesed for my life.

It is my prayer that His Hesed will be evident to each of you as well. You have been great companions on this journey, much loved and appreciated. I will miss my interactions and conversations those who serve in schools. I thank you for allowing me into your lives and will continue to pray for you and the schools you serve.

Ray Hendriks is the Senior Advisor at Edvance.

[1] (1) John Oswalt, The Bible Among the Myths (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 71.