A Community of Kindness
We’ve all seen the bumper sticker “Practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.” It’s a nice sentiment, and I certainly won’t criticize the spirit of anyone putting those exhortations into practice.
However, I think we as Christians are called to a little bit more. Kindness is a fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22). Fruit trees are planted, nurtured, watered, pruned, and tended by the gardeners. Kindness is not just something random, but rather it is something to be cultivated. Perhaps we should make new bumper stickers that read: “Practice consistent acts of kindness and purposeful acts of beauty.”
What is involved when we think of kindness? I believe that kindness is all about an intention to bless, without any demand of anything in return. This is what separates kindness from mere observation of manners. Manners are about observing social norms that help put other people at ease. Manners are often concerned with reciprocity and the give and take among people. Kindness, on the other hand, extends blessing and expects nothing.
Kindness is when we check in on our neighbors who are ill or going through a hard time. Kindness is the “just thinking of you” phone call, the random note of encouragement, the unexpected invitation to a meal, the unexpected gift. Kindness is learning the names of people who serve you; kindness is being the best tipper in the restaurant.
Attentiveness and kindness go hand in glove. The intention to bless is coupled with the attention to learn what the other person considers to be a blessing. Proverbs 27:14 captures this truth with a humorous wink: “If anyone loudly blesses their neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.” Kindness means realizing that we’re all wired differently, and we all receive things differently. Gary Chapman’s helpful little book The Five Love Languages is not just a helpful guide for spouses, it also contains insights for friendship. He suggests five main ways in which people receive love, affection, and kindness: Words of Affirmation, Gifts, Quality Time, Touch, Acts of Service. Each of us, Chapman suggests, majors in one of these five ways. Kindness pays attention and figures out which way the other person is wired.
Finally, kindness graciously receives the kindness of others. It is kind to let other people have the joy of being a blessing to you. We have all heard the maxim “it is better to give than to receive.” And this is true, in so far as it prompts us to offer our giftedness in order to be a blessing to others. But we all need to receive as well. Paul tells us “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2). His very exhortation reminds us at times we will carry burdens, and other times our burdens will be carried. Kindness is about giving and receiving.
May the Lord grow within us all the fruit of kindness; and may the Spirit so grow this fruit in us that we become known as a community of kindness.
Soli Deo Gloria