The other day, I was talking with my son, James, and I asked him, “Do you think it is important to help people when they need it?” His immediate response was, “Yes.”
“Because it is important to be kind.”
“Why is it important to be kind?” followed by a long pause…
“It just is.”
I tried a different question and asked him, “How would you try to convince one of your friends to be helpful & kind?” another long pause…
“You can’t really tell people to be kind, because it is something that they need to WANT to do.”
As difficult as that question is, I think James did a good job. Such a simple question, yet it can be very difficult to articulate an answer.
Have you ever struggled with being kind or thought about why someone chooses to withhold kindness? A few months ago, my husband pulled up in front of a store to let me out and another driver jerk around us honking her horn and thrust the ‘F-You’ sign in the air. We were confused as to why she chose to respond that way.
Or have you also been the first to pull up to a stop sign but forgot to turn on your left blinker causing the other car to brake as you turned in front of them? Like me, you probably immediately realized what you did and started to offer your, ‘oops, I’m so sorry’ gesture; but you notice the other driver rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disgust.
Even though I experience things like this fairly often, I try hard to assume the best of people; i.e., maybe they are having a really bad day… But even with that potentially true assumption, I still feel a little sting in my heart. Being the recipient of someone’s contempt usually motivates me to not make others wonder if I’m having a bad day. Sometimes I notice that I have my guard up preparing my heart for another jab, but instead, I receive kindness. Awww… random or unexpected acts of kindness lift my spirit; they also motivate me to help others feel seen and okay for being human.
But, is it Enough to Just Not Be Mean?
Unfortunately, there was a time when I felt it was my right and responsibility to inform a service person (cashier, wait-person, customer service rep…) how I was inconvenienced by something they did or didn’t do. Honestly, there are still times when I have to fight feeling like an entitled customer and resist the urge to express my dissatisfaction. Sigh… I am a work in progress.
Scripture tells us that all the ‘do not’ commandments (you shall NOT commit adultery, NOT murder, NOT steal, NOT covet and whatever other commands there may be), “are summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: 9-10, emphasis added)
So according to this scripture, the answer to my question is, No; it is not enough to just avoid being mean. Not causing harm alone, is not kindness or love.
What’s the Difference Between Being Kind or Loving Our Neighbor?
According to Auntbee6, a member of a public journal on Sparkpeople.com
Kindness is doing what is decent, basic, courteous, and necessary to enhance another’s life.
Love is taking the extra step to make life truly exciting, creative, and meaningful! Here are a few of her examples:
- Kindness provides a house, but love makes a home.
- Kindness packs an adequate sack lunch, but love puts a note of encouragement in it.
- Kindness provides a television set or computer as a learning aid, but love controls the remote control and cares enough to insist that a child “sign off”.
In the classic Bible story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us how the Samaritan went beyond being kind and loved the man he saw on the side of the road. The man wasn’t an old friend he recognized from the grocery store; he was a complete stranger from a very different background. In that same way, Jesus calls us to love our neighbors. I’ve heard my pastor answer the common question – “Who is my neighbor?” by defining our neighbors as anyone whose need we see and whose need we are in the position to meet. MAN! that is a tall order! In any given day, I could see 10 or more people who need something. How kind or loving am I required to be?
I don’t want to settle with just being kind, but the Samaritan’s example seems extreme. Yet, at the same time, I trust it to be possible because I know people who, on a regular basis, respond to their neighbors’ needs with extreme love.
Here are just two beautiful examples:
Twenty plus years ago, when my husband proposed marriage; other than Robert, I didn’t have much help planning and preparing for our wedding. I was an only child, from a small extended family and my mom had a small business 200 miles away. In addition, at the time, both Robert and I were both broke grad students. Our entire wedding (including my dress and the reception) cost less than $5,000 and I’m sure we didn’t have more than $300 for flowers and decorations. However, without being asked, Gwen, one of my girlfriend’s mom, took it upon herself to personally make my bridal bouquet, the guys’ boutonnieres and coordinate all of the decorations. For us, that was an extreme act of love.
Jack is a retiree that I have known for many years. Jack went so far as to learn Spanish so he could serve Spanish speaking neighbors, at his church’s outreach center. What a personal and meaningful act of love.
Kindness is a Good Start.
Apparently, if we are kind, we can not assume we are also loving – but kindness is a good first step. As I was thinking about Auntbee6’s post, I tried to practice how I could move beyond kindness in my daily life and settings. I may not be ready to spontaneously love like the Good Samaritan, but I can practice by taking baby steps beyond what I would normally do. As I sat trying to think of some practical scenarios, a few ideas evolved:
- It would not be unusual for me to slow down as I’m entering a store in order to allow someone to enter ahead of me. But maybe when I see a non-English speaking Mexican person, I can take the extra effort to also make eye contact, smile with my whole face and say, “Hello” as I stop to let them pass. Why? Because I think it would be safe to assume that their heart & dignity is attacked multiple times a day from others’ dismissive and contemptuous acts. Maybe I can reverse the effects of at least one.
- Being acknowledged and feeling like there is space for you just as you are, is a significant need. There is definitely room for me to work harder at being kind or even loving when I cross paths with people in the margins of our society; for example, the female cashier at Barns & Nobel who has extra large hands, a deep voice and poorly applied makeup. Even though I don’t know why I sometimes feel awkward, I can try hard not to; I can make eye contact, pay attention to my body language and facial expressions and I can allow our skin to touch when I pay for my items. I can go further by mustering the courage to recognize her humanness and make conversation; i.e. Have you read any good books lately? What do you like about working here? Or do you have any fun plans for the weekend?
- An obvious opportunity to love our neighbors is when we are at a stop light and someone is standing on the corner with a sign asking for help. More and more, especially if I don’t have anything to give them, I try to take the risk of rolling down my window and chatting with them – maybe I could talk about the weather; tell a corny joke or tell them that I’m building a new playlist, and ask if they have any suggestions.” However, knowing that cash is really what they are hoping for, and because my family and I typically don’t give money, we sometimes try to plan ahead and have $5 or $10 gift cards to a common fast food joint or offer warm socks or gloves during the winter. Being kind to a poor person on the corner may include one of the ideas above. However, loving someone might include parking my car and walking over to them in order to have a more meaningful conversation. I might say, “Hi, my name is Barbara. It’s cold out here. What do you need money for?” Then being prepared to do something to meet their identified need(s) would be the next step.
- Maybe they want to get a warm hotel room so they don’t have to sleep outside that night; they could take a shower and get a good night sleep. I could offer to go with them to an inexpensive hotel nearby and pay for a 1 or 2-night stay. I could also offer to get them something to eat and sit with them and listen to more of their story.
- Maybe a less obvious neighbor is the college intern that works in your department. (I say, ‘your’ department because I work at home – LOL). Anyway, greeting them every day would be kind, but committing to loving them may include any level of mentoring, looking for ways to enhance their experience or help them advance once their assignment is over.
I would love it if you, my Tribe, would share a practical idea for the rest of us to consider as we grow in loving our neighbors.
You know where I am in the process of loving my neighbors better and I thank you for your daily mercies. Please allow me to see them as you see them and recognize how I might be in the position to meet their need. Instead of praying and asking you to provide for them, please move me to be your source of provision.
Sometimes, my friends see my actions and praise me for them, but you see my heart. Increase my WANT to love especially when it is hard or inconvenient. Help me to avoid being mean (even if only in my heart) and I ask you, gracious Father, to give me the courage to not be satisfied with being kind, but push towards love.
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