Ever been caught between the choice to insist you’re right and the choice to extend kindness? This week, I’ve asked my friend and previous guest-poster Dena Hobbs to discuss why the spiritual fruit of kindness matters, especially in this climate of polarizing rhetoric and harsh criticism. Enjoy Dena’s wisdom and then check out some of her other work linked below.
A few weeks ago, my teenaged daughter and I were watching our summer obsession, Songland. Now, if you have not watched the TV show, the premise is popular singers come looking for songs that will capture the hearts of their audience. Aspiring songwriters pitch original creations, and the singers choose the one they think will be the next big hit.
In this episode, will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas was seeking material for his new album. The first two songwriters performed worthy songs, but the instant my daughter and I heard up-and-comer Adam Friedman sing the chorus of his pitch, “Be Nice,” we turned to each other and said, “That’s the one.”
We knew in our bones the song would be a hit because our world is craving kindness.
Rudeness, hatred, and fear abound. Even will.i.iam, who went on to release “Be Nice” in collaboration with Snoop Dog, knows a little bit of nice can be a life-changing balm in our broken world. (Fun fact: will.i.am was raised Baptist and Snoop Dog is a born-again Christian who has recently recorded Gospel songs. Didn’t see that coming did you?)
I remember quite well a day when kindness was that sort of life-changing balm for me. It was my first week working as a barista. As it sometimes goes in food service, a disgruntled customer had been very unkind. Her belittling words made me feel small and incompetent to the point I planned to quit after that shift. But my day wasn’t over yet. As I stopped by a market on the way home, the woman checking me out looked me in the eye, handed me my bag, and said, “Here you go, sweet angel.”
Those five words were all it took. I sat in my car sobbing as this woman’s kindness reminded me of my true identity: not “stupid” and “failure” but “sweet angel” or more accurately, “beloved daughter of God.” Her words were life to me.
I would like to assume that all practicing Christians understand the same power of extending kindness. But sadly, sometimes we are not kind at all. What’s worse is a disturbing trend in Christian circles—one I confess I, too, have participated in at times—to decide that if we are fighting for a righteous cause or correcting someone who is wrong, our approach doesn’t matter.
We choose being right over being in relationship and fighting for righteousness over being kind.
God has ever so kindly convicted me of this attitude so that He might grow spiritual fruit in me. He’s shown me that the first problem with choosing rightness over kindness is that God, who is righteousness, consistently chooses to be kind. One of my favorite Hebrew words is Hesed, which loosely translates to lovingkindness. Throughout the Old Testament and especially in the Psalms, we hear of God’s eternal lovingkindness, a kindness that is given regardless of our worth and that can be counted on throughout our lives. If you are a fellow Bible nerd, you will appreciate that Hesed occurs 248 times in the Old Testament, a bounty of repetitions that remind us to take the concept to heart. But the impressive number of mentions is not why I love Hesed so much.
I love Hesed because I know how deeply kind God has been to me. I am constantly amazed at how God not only loves me, the mess that I am, but also goes on to shower kindness over me daily.
The second issue with neglecting kindness is that people generally are unchanged by angry or rude rebukes. My harsh Facebook comments have brought no one closer to Christ. Not one person one inch closer. What has brought people closer to Christ are my acts of kindness.
Jesus himself led with kindness. His tenderness and mercy moved people like the adulterous woman, Zacchaeus the tax collector, and the outcast woman at the well from brokenness to healing. His surprising gift of kindness drew people to Him, motivated them to repent, and invited them into discipleship where change could happen.
So, the next time we are tempted to offer a harsh rebuke to someone whom we believe is wrong, we would all do well to take a breath and “Be Nice.” As the prophet Micah reminds us, we are to do justice, yes, but also love kindness and always walk humbly with our God. As we learn to lead with the spiritual fruit of kindness, we will point people to God’s greater Hesed, which truly has the power to change them.
More About Dena: A United Methodist Church minister for several years, Dena now leads a campus ministry at Mercer University while preparing to launch her own two teenagers into adulthood. A blogger at DenaDouglasHobbs.com and author of the devotional Lighten the Darkness: An Advent Journey through Hope, she explores ways to restore the soul in the midst of our busy, messy, beautiful lives. She also leads workshops with husband, Jason, a licensed therapist, on topics such as anxiety and stress.
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash