Searching for Kindness

I want to love with a kindness that nurtures a hard heart to desire to be soft. God is the only one able to transform someone else’s heart, but if I live a life submitted to Him, then His love will be reflected through me.
— Kara Tippetts, Big Love

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about how after experiencing an unkindness toward me, I responded defensively, which I realized later was a failure to extend kindness to someone who most certainly needed it. The question I got the most was, “What would it have looked like to respond kindly?”

Kindness does not come naturally to me; in fact, until recent years, I equated it with being nice. Then after sitting under a mentor who taught on biblical kindness—not niceness!—I started realizing that I not only don’t understand kindness well, but I am not very good at it.

This is what I know about biblical kindness:

1. Kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5)

This means that if we are Christians and have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, we have kindness dwelling in us, too. While we have to understand what kindness is and discipline ourselves to extend it, it is also a part of our new nature in Christ. Isn’t that wonderful? I have experienced this; when I choose to live out of kindness instead of unkindness, I experience a freedom and a peace from living out of my new nature instead of my sinful nature. Kindness starts in our hearts!

2. We are commanded to be kind.

12-14 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Colossians 3)

This means that God desires us to live lives of kindness with each other—it’s part of his design! If we want to live in vulnerable, safe, supportive community with each other, we need to practice kindness on a regular basis. It should become a natural response for us as we learn to live this way. Romans 2 tells us that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Think of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and what God has done to draw us into his family—He wasn’t being nice, he was being kind!

3. Kindness is rooted in love.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.8 Love never ends. (I Corinthians 13)

That means that the motivation for kindness is love. Kindness isn’t just a gesture or something you do hoping the other person will reciprocate. It is the feet of love; kindness is love in action. Kindness means putting the other person before yourself; kindness means loving the other person even if it means you won’t get what you want in that situation; kindness means sacrifice. Kindness means noticing someone, seeing a need, and then reaching out to meet their need, whether through word or deed, whether big or small.

Last Christmas, my son had pneumonia. But before he was diagnosed, we were out doing some Christmas shopping. All of a sudden, Von started coughing. He couldn’t stop. His little face turned red, then blue. And then he threw up all over the floor of the sweet little boutique. I was terrified; something was clearly wrong with my baby, and while he had finally caught his breath, I knew that he must be very sick. The owner of the store came over. She is a bit older, a grandmotherly type, and as she approached, I hoped she would know what to do, that she would tell me just how to help my little boy. Instead, she berated me for his vomit on her floor. There I was holding my 2-year-old son desperately, the tears streaming down both our faces, with my 1-year old in the stroller crying from the commotion. And this lady was mad about her carpet. I felt two inches tall. I apologized and hurried out as quickly as I could. Later I thought about how much my children and I needed kindness in that moment and what a huge difference it would have made to us in our fear and confusion.

Anger does not beget heart change; it begets shame. Yelling does not beget understanding; it begets hurt. Harsh words do not beget love; they beget humiliation. Intimidation does not beget kindness; it begets fear. Only kindness begets kindness; in fact, kindness begets love.

So when asked how I should have responded in kindness to the Mean Man, my answer is that I don’t exactly know. But I do know that my response begins in my heart—I should have had a soft heart, and then a soft, kind action or at least words would have followed. What if, after assessing that he meant no physical harm to me and my children, I had engaged him and his wife in simple conversation, asking their names and introducing myself? What if I had offered to buy them a cup of goodwill coffee or a jar of Cookie Butter? He might still have thought I was a moron, but at least I would have been a kind moron.

What would it look like to be kind to someone you don’t like or is different or is hurting? What would it look like to sacrifice your own comfort to be kind to someone else? What would it look like to sacrifice your time or energy or money to reach out in kindness? What would it mean to extend kindness to those around you? To your roommate, your mom, your neighbor, your coworker, your husband, your children? Do you extend kindness when someone has sinned against you? When your child has disobeyed, do you extend kindness even as you discipline?