For the first hour of any given day, my mind is not awake. My wish to ease into the day, to be up before my kids and get dressed and have breakfast alone, is ungranted. It’s almost laughable. In the midst of hurrying and scurrying to get three kids and myself dressed and fed in a little over an hour before the school bus comes, I usually grumble at the slightest provocation. As a mother, I feel like I go through my days with a sense of irritation just below the surface.
As the day goes on, I silently lose my patience at the slow driver in front of me or for getting too many red lights. I’m going to be late again. Of course, someone needing to use the bathroom right as we’re stepping out of the house or me frantically searching for my keys or phone as, again, we need to leave, doesn’t help.
I look at my shirt that says “Kindness Is Always in Style.” How easy is it to wear it on clothing, but how do I wear my kindness toward others? Kindness isn’t something we just put up to look good and then cast off at the end of the day and put in the laundry (or cast off whenever it’s inconvenient for us). At least it shouldn’t be. Kindness is more that something we parade around and show off to the world.
It should be easy to be kind, right? Holding the door, saying hi, please, and thank you, and offering a smile to a stranger might be the only light in someone’s otherwise bleak day. It’s true that you never know how you might affect someone else. You could very well be their sunshine, if only for a moment.
If I’m being completely honest, however, I believe that it’s easier to be kind toward a stranger than those closest to me. Then there are those days when I walk right past people and stare at the floor, wishing I was the only person I could be around. Heck, I even make myself miserable on those days!
When I was younger, if I felt someone had wronged me, I wanted vindication. I wanted to be right and to make sure they knew it. I’ll never forget a big turning point for me in regards to this way of thinking. When I was 29, I was in attendance at a lecture at the natural history museum in Cleveland, and the presenter was basically trying to prove that there was no God. I remember thinking, “What does this have to do with science?” As I listened to him, I silently fumed. When question time came, no one in the audience seemed to be bothered like I was by the presenter’s topic. I muttered to my husband and father-in-law, “I’m waiting for someone to knock him down a peg or two.”
Then realization hit me like a ton of bricks upside the head. I was knocked down a peg or two! I realized that I was more concerned with being right than being kind or having a concern for this man. Regardless of his beliefs, they were his. He wasn’t being disrespectful in how he presented them, so what was my problem? My problem was that what he was professing didn’t agree with what I believed to be true.
So, I understand now that there’s a thin line between genuine concern for another and wanting to be right. It’s not a kindness at all if my falsely-laced concern is just me looking for gossip or a reason to feel better about myself.
Another lesson I’ll never forget is a sermon our previous pastor gave on kindness, probably four or five years ago. He repeated the phrase “Never underestimate the value of kindness” three times, shortly and deliberately at the end of his talk. Those words have stuck with me and molded themselves onto my heart like a brand.
There’s a definite shortage of kindness in the world. Whenever we come into this time of year of holidays, most of us gather with family and friends, over-indulge in food, alcohol, and presents, having spent too much money and exhausted ourselves in every way possible by the New Year. As a mother, I try to teach my kids the value of kindness by thinking about those who don’t have much and what giving means: that it’s more important to give than to receive, with no expectation of anything in return. When the TV, radio, and the Internet are abuzz with ads for every type of must-have toy or that year’s latest tech, it’s really hard to drill that lesson into the mind of a young person…or even an older person.
A small group I’m in at church that’s been meeting every Monday afternoon for nearly six years to do various book studies that relate to the Christian faith has been doing a study on Advent. It’s made me think about what I can do in small way to live out my faith better and in a more like-manner of Jesus. Kindness is one of the fruits of the spirit. I can make an effort to be kinder.
But it’s not usually my first inclination to act in kindness when I feel slighted. This is the true test of a person’s patience. I was part of a Sunday morning group that met regularly at church for some time. There was a single guy in his thirties who joined us, but after a few times, he wrote an email to the group, in which he said he was moving away and wanted to find a different group, one with people who had problems. He was looking to work with people who suffered. I got the jist of what he meant – people who suffered outwardly, who lacked resources or money. He didn’t feel right in our vanilla suburban setting.
I was offended by what he said, for I thought, “Just because we aren’t suffering financially doesn’t mean we don’t have problems.” Many people suffer silently. While I could have gone off about such a thing, I held back. I knew better than to come at him with claws out. Hadn’t he spent several weeks in Sunday school with the same group as me? So, I held my tongue and wrote an email, explaining that I was sorry to hear he was leaving, but that I understood. I gently pointed out that I suffer inwardly a lot because my oldest son has autism. I explained that just because a problem isn’t noticeable, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. He wrote back, apologizing for the way he’d worded things, saying that it hadn’t been his intent to offend. He got what I was saying and agreed, even opening up about his background some. Because he had once been down and out and had been helped by others who had the means, he now felt the desire to pay it forward. We split ways, mutually in understanding. That was the result of choosing kindness.
With these examples in mind, I hope I can remember to choose kindness this Advent and beyond. I hope you’ll join me.
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One response to “Choose Kindness”
I totally agree with you. For some reason we are nicer to people outside our own families. Also, I used to glare at people who didn’t “look handicapped” to me. I now know that many medical conditions that require close-up handicapped parking aren’t visible and have stopped judging whether or not someone is abusing use of the permit. Our pastor has mentioned many times that we should try to do tangible acts everyday to help others. This has stuck with me and I really try to do this. During the Oprah TV days she talked a lot about doing random acts of kindness and these small acts which in many cases will have no witness can easily become a habit. Just small things like when shopping at Aldi’s — leaving the quarter in your shopping cart when you return it. Picking up items that have fallen on store floors and returning them to the shelf or hanging them up. Helping someone pay for food or other items when they are short by a just a few cents or a couple of dollars. The opportunities are endless and I have found that there are a lot of people being kind in small tangible ways and that gives me peace knowing that there are still so many kind and good people in this world.