“What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?” -Jean Jacques Rosseau
The Oxford Languages dictionary suggests the word ‘kindness’ is: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. What images does your brain conjure up when you think of the word ‘kindness’? Do you remember a specific event; one in which kindness was extended to you? What memories come flooding back? What emotions do you feel? Or, instead, do you remember instances in your life where your very soul craved to be shown kindness on some level, and you never received it? Perhaps you didn’t grow up in a home where kindness was practiced. Or for some of you, you may not even know how to recognize kindness anymore because what you thought was kindness, was in actual fact, manipulation, control, and abuse. Whatever your experience, I invite you to share a conversation with me here in this space. Grab a cup of coffee, find a comfy spot on your couch, take a deep breath, exhale your chaos, and join me in this quiet moment.
Over the past year or so, I’ve been processing and pondering not only the word ‘kindness’, but also what it means to be kind, what that looks like, and why it’s imperative to practice extending it to others, even if we don’t feel that we are recipients of kindness ourselves. My journey started when I began working through Michael Card’s book, ‘Inexpressible: Hesed and the Mystery of God’s Loving-Kindness’.
Have you ever heard of the Hebrew word, ‘Hesed’? It’s a powerful one. A life-changing one…if you know what it means. But here’s the catch: you won’t ever really know the full extent of what it means because there is no one word in the English language that can accurately translate it completely. 🙂 Hesed is a Hebrew word found in the Bible which refers to all the characteristics of God. Card states, “A single word is rarely enough in a given context to express all that hesed means, so translators are forced to pile on adjectives.” For example: Hesed can mean the following:
Sound like a lot? Yes. And it should. Most commentators would suggest that any time you see the word ‘loving-kindness’ in the Old Testament, it would be referring to the word hesed. Card gives a very simplistic, yet beautiful description of Hesed, which is the definition I’ll use as reference for the rest of this blog. He writes, “Hesed: When the person from whom I have a right to expect nothing gives me everything.” Isn’t that beautiful? Doesn’t that inspire you? At the very least, it ought to point you to the beauty of the gospel: God’s ultimate kindness to us.
What motivates you to be kind? Stop and think with me for awhile here. Don’t rush past this. What’s your motivator to extend kindness? Do you have an ulterior motive? Are you hoping for kindness to be returned to you? Are you expecting anything in return? What’s the driving force behind why you show kindness to others? A friend asked me this question not that long ago and it forced me to really think on what my motivation is behind why I choose to be kind.
After some thought, I came up with the following: I choose to be kind because of my obedience to Christ. Paul states in Ephesians 5:1, “Be imitators of God”. Christ has been extremely kind to me and compassionate, so I try to do likewise to others. Christ also states in John 14:15 that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” What was the greatest commandment? Matthew 22:36 quotes Jesus’ response to this question. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s where my motivation comes from. I have no wish to receive anything in return. I don’t just show kindness to try and “convert” people to Christianity. If that happens as a result, then that’s awesome, but it’s not my goal or motivation in extending kindness. It comes down to one point and for me, that point is being obedient to and to imitate Christ alone.
When we make the choice to extend kindness, we choose to be an imitator of Christ and His Word. When we choose to respond in love instead of reacting in anger or frustration, we do what Paul tells us to in Colossians 3:12-14. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, KINDNESS, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. When we choose to put on kindness, we become what Nancy Demoss Wolgemuth calls “instruments of grace”. She states in her book, Adorned: Living Out the Beauty of the Gospel, Together, “Yes, people may cause the lion’s share of our headaches. But when we serve people, we serve Christ. And when we treat people with kindness rather than indifference or impatience, we become channels of blessing, dispensing gracious words and actions that can’t help but adorn the gospel of Christ.” (pg. 319)
But here’s another question for you. Have you ever noticed that it’s one thing to show kindness to a homeless person by purchasing them a coffee or a lunch, but it’s a totally different thing to show kindness to the people who live in our very home? We might be tempted to think, But I AM kind to my family! I make their meals, I do their laundry, I pick up after them, etc. Those are indeed good things to do and they have the ability to show kindness, but do you do those things out of love? Because if you don’t, it’s pointless. Read that again. Pointless! Wolgemuth suggests that “God cares about our motives and our disposition – how that service is carried out, how we treat and respond to our family, friends, and others.” (pg. 310) Paul states in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 “If I speak in the tongues of men and angels…if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge…if I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain NOTHING.” Based on these verses, Wolgemuth continues, “He might similarly say of women who serve their families and care for their homes, ‘If I have a house so spotless that people could eat off the kitchen floor…and if I can whip up incredibly scrumptious meals on a tight budget…and if I’ve transformed our home into a magazine-quality showcase…but I don’t do it all with kindness, it’s nothing.” Our kindness and love are not felt when the noise of our tiredness, exasperation, and frustration screams so much louder.
To end, I wanted to share some stories with you that had been sent to me on kindness in action. I trust they will encourage you and uplift you, maybe make you shed a tear or two as they did me, and motivate you to extend the hesed of God to a world around you that’s desperate for kindness.
Three of my homeschool mom friends came to my house the week we were packing up to move. As a mother of seven, the basement clutter was overwhelming to me. They hauled out and sorted through stuff in every nook and cranny. The following year, those same three and their girls drove 3.5 hours to my new home to throw me a surprise 50th birthday party!
I was having a rough day, slept through my alarm, late for work, stressful clients. At lunch, I stopped and got a sandwich and grabbed a bag of donuts to get me through the rest of the day. As soon as I walked out the door, I dropped my sandwich. The container flew open and the sandwich fell to the ground. I picked it up and threw it out and started to walk away, too frustrated to walk back. Then I heard someone yelling “Excuse me!” I turned around and a guy who had seen me drop my sandwich told the cashier and they replaced my sandwich for free. I was so embarrassed but also happy and grateful and it made my day better.
Last Christmas was the first year my father and his siblings were without their mother. Dad had 12 siblings and one was my aunt who has Down Syndrome. She is living in a group home with other women who are mentally challenged. Last year, my dad, along with his other 11 siblings decided to each take a day leading up to Christmas to surprise my Auntie and the other ladies, basically like a 12 Days of Christmas. They did anything from performing skits for all the ladies to bringing gifts for everyone, baking, singing Christmas carols, etc. I just thought it was such a wonderful thing to do for my Aunt, yet alone the other ladies that lived there. I’m sure it must have been tough to spend their first Christmas without Grandma, and then to have all the Covid restrictions on top of everything…but every time another sibling showed up, all of the ladies faces lit up with joy.
It was in the fall of 2009. I was about 3 months pregnant with my first baby and was feeling very sick and very low emotionally. I was still pretty new to the city, and to Canada, and to marriage, and to pregnancy. And, though I was very happy to be in the place I was, I was feeling a little lonely for all that was familiar and comfortable. I had to do some shopping and went into a gift shop to browse for a gift for a friend. I had picked up a wooden Willow Tree figurine and considered it, then put it back. As I pulled my hand out from the shelf, my coat sleeve caught another Willow Tree figure and it fell to the floor, the head rolling off across the floor. I was a little panicked and upset that now I’d have to pay for something that was worthless and broken. I was trembling as I took the head and body of the figure up to the desk. I held them up and explained to the store-keeper that I had knocked it off and it broke. He shook his head a bit and said, “Oh, I’m gonna have to have you pay for it”, not unkindly but a bit brusquely. I nodded and barely managed an, “I know”, before tears came to my eyes. He could tell how bad I felt and I was trying to be brave and I knew the right thing was absolutely to pay for it. I just felt awful about breaking it, awful about having to waste money on something broken, and maybe just awful because I felt so sick all the time. Anyway, he paused, tipped his head thoughtfully, and said, “Wait just a minute”. He headed to the back of the store and brought back a little package of super glue and handed it to me, saying maybe that would help me fix it if I wanted to. I thanked him with a choked up voice and got out my money to pay. At that point, he waved his hand and just said, “No, don’t worry about it. You can just have it and the glue.” Then my tears spilled over and I weakly protested that I knew I should pay for it, that I was responsible for breaking it. He wouldn’t accept my payment and then asked what chruch I went to. I explained briefly about my small home church group and he shook his head and said something like, “I was just wondering, beacuse most people wouldn’t have even told me. They would have left the broken figure on the floor and walked out. So for you to come to me and accept responsibility, well, that’s just a very different kind of person.” I thanked him with all my heart for showing me mercy and kindness. Then I walked home and bawled most of the afternoon over the kindness he showed to me in my moment of shame, embarrassment, and lonliness. It still makes me cry. I glued that head back on, and even though it wasn’t even a figurine I would have picked, not one of my favorites, I have it still to remind me of mercy and kindness given when we don’t deserve it. The figure is holding out a wrapped gift. It amazes me how the figure itself pictures what that gentleman did for me. It may all sound like I was over-dramatic or made a huge deal out of something that was pretty trivial. The thing is, that kind man met me in my neediness and was kind just to be kind. He didn’t have to. Kind of like Jesus.