Kindness can get a bad rap. Some people who are extraordinarily kind can come across as fake. We tend to think that there is no way people can be that kind. We want people to be real. “I’m just keepin’ it real,” we say, as if it is always good to express ourselves however we want, including with unkindness. In fact, authenticity in our culture is often assumed to mean that we will so fully express ourselves that we have permission to be negative or hurtful. When you hurt or feel threatened, our cultural norm says you are authentic when you let it out however you feel. Shout, curse, manipulate, intimidate. Do what feels right. If it is inside us, just let it out, our culture says.
The problem is that what feels right in those moments is often contrary to kindness. Kindness sometimes doesn’t feel natural. How can you be kind when you don’t want to be kind? How can you wrestle your very negative emotions and thoughts into submission so that what comes out of your mouth and your actions is consistent with kindness?
For some of us, we have allowed ourselves to get stuck in a rut of expressing ourselves negatively, and we have done so for years. For some of us, therefore, kindness can seem like an impossibility. Sometimes the negativity comes out almost, or perhaps totally, without us thinking about it. It can feel like we have no choice in the matter. We wonder, doubting, “Can I be kind and still express honestly the pain I am feeling?”
When it comes to kindness, as with every quality in the Fruit of the Spirit, notice how they are related to that final quality in the list, self-control. We’re going to talk about self-control more when we get to the end of the list in a few weeks. For now, know this: we are not robots. God has created humanity with free will, so that we can have more or less control over our lives. We can live in such a way that we are controlled by our habits, emotions, and the world around us. But walking in step with the Spirit means that we will practice, we will exercise, we will train our bodies, our minds, our emotions, so that we have more control, so that more kindness flows from our lives.
When kindness flows from our lives, it brings healing. Consider the wisdom of the Proverbs: in Proverbs: 12:25, “an anxious heart weighs a person down, but a kind word cheers him up;” 14:21, “The one who despises his neighbor sins, blessed is the one who is kind to the needy;” 14:31, “The one who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy, hears God.” Kindness really can transform us and the world around us. We Christians, then, are people who grow kindness.
Growing kindness means cultivating a relationship with the Spirit. We are not alone in the work of becoming kind. We have the Spirit living inside us, and we can grow our relationship with the Spirit so that he helps us express ourselves with kindness. The Spirit can help us choose kindness specially in those moments when we don’t feel kind, when we don’t want to be kind, including those seemingly automatic reactions that we think we’ll never get under control.
I have appreciated the work of The Kindness 101 Team on CBS News. Check it out, as they feature stories of people that are practicing kindness. Talk with people who demonstrate kindness. Ask them about it. Are there ways they think, talk and act that you can learn from?
Kindness can heal, kindness can disarm an intense conversation, kindness can bring warring factions together. Kindness is like a superpower, some people have observed. It does not mean you aren’t honest about your pain. But, it is a way to express pain and struggle that then enables it to be heard, understood and healed.
In what ways do you need to work on kindness?
First of all, do you need to confess to God and to people that you have been unkind? Do you need to work toward healing a relationship that you have broken because of your unkindness? If so, do so.
Second, do you need to work toward growing kindness in your life? Do you need to set an alarm on your phone to go off regularly and pause and pray for help to get rid of anger, hatred, rage and to replace it with kindness? Do you need to ask someone to check in on how you are doing with this on a regular basis? Who in your life do you see as someone who is kind? Spend time with them! Learn from them. What are there patterns and habits? Read through the gospels and watch The Chosen. Observe how Jesus interacted with people who were frustrating or different from him.
Then be kind like he was kind.