It was the first week of my summer vacation after finishing the 3rd grade. There was an unexpected knock on our front door. The teacher who had started the school year and then disappeared in the spring on maternity leave stood there. In her arms was her newborn child that she had brought to show me. As a nine-year-old boy, I had no appreciation for how far she had driven, nor the inconveniences of taking an infant out in public. I also had little interest in looking at a baby. Yet I can still remember her smile as she sat in our living room and invited me to take a closer look at her treasure. I don’t know how many other students she visited, but the feeling of importance I felt was beyond my capacity to express at the time. She honored me that day, and my little-boy’s heart could feel it. This thoughtful and tender act left such a deep impression that it is one of the few things I can now recall from that year of my life.
Kindness is powerful.
I’m certain that I have experienced many more acts of kindness than I can remember. And I believe they have all been part of shaping me into who I am. However, I have also heard this tender quality referred to as something much less meaningful and impactful. Some see it as nice but not necessary for a relationship, kind of like garnish on a dinner plate or a cherry on top of ice cream. It makes things a bit more pleasant, but it’s not the main dish. Afterall, it is often the first thing to be discarded when a relationship comes under stress.
For others, to be kind is to show weakness. Therefore, to sit in the relational power seat, kindness is either twisted or disregarded. Many thus view outward expressions of kindness as little more than manipulative tools. They find themselves using “kindness” to get what they need or want. And they perceive questionable motives behind the thoughtful and generous acts of others.
How important is it really?
Yet kindness is listed among the nine Fruits of the Spirit in the Bible (Galatians 5: 22-23). And since fruit is the result of something that has been planted and cultivated over time, real kindness is something that should show up when the Spirit of God is at work in a person’s life. It’s one of the character qualities of our Heavenly Father that He desires to see in His children. But what difference does it really make? Does its absence in a person’s life or its manipulation for personal gain create any concerning consequences?
First of all, I’ll try to define what I’m talking about. For some, to be kind is merely to be nice or superficially polite. But I believe its meaning runs much deeper. I see kindness as tangible expressions, affirmations, and acts that communicate another person’s value. And it all flows from a heart that sincerely desires to see another built up. It’s not flashy, never manipulative, often understated and soft spoken. It never points to itself and asks to be recognized. It gives, in small and large doses, without expecting to be thanked or rewarded. It merely wants the other to feel his or her God-given value. It is always sincere. The Greek word used in the New Testament typically refers to moral goodness and integrity in relationships. In its purest form, kindness is difficult—if not impossible—for humans to produce. It is, afterall, a primary vehicle through which agape love is communicated (1 Corinthians 13:4). And the scriptures tell us that it should be evident and growing in followers of Jesus.
Interestingly enough, secular studies are showing that it is much more important than some might think. A 2014 article from The Atlantic reported on some of this research. According to psychologist John Gottman, generosity and kindness are the key qualities for lasting relationships. After studying 130 couples, he came to the conclusion that “kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated—feel loved.” *
According to the study, in marriages that lasted through the years with a sense of warm connection, couples consistently honored one another by 1) stopping what they were doing to listen to each other, 2) sincerely celebrating each other’s successes, and 3) regularly interpreting their partners’ actions generously (even the irritating ones). A culture of respect and appreciation took shape in the relationships where kindness, generosity, and believing the best in the other was given priority.
I’ve seen that when kindness is not chosen, life-sucking qualities fill the vacuum: hostility, contempt, criticism, disinterest, or even plain old neglect. The lack of kindness in a friendship, a marriage, a family, or a community can leave deep wounds and twist an individual’s understanding of what a healthy, life-giving relationship can be. The human soul is drawn to kindness. Even as a child, I could sense it within people’s words, body language and simplest acts, like those of my 3rd-grade teacher. And they were the people I wanted to be around and emulate.
Mark Twain, the 19th-Century-American writer, said, “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and blind can see.” It’s like we have a sixth sense that identifies its presence. It offers hope that selfishness and evil have not overtaken the world completely. And it is life-giving for any person, regardless age, intelligence, ethnicity, or disability. We all are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). We therefore have been designed to respond to the reinforcement of our value and the affirmation that our thoughts, desires, and presence matters. Sincere kindness can communicate all that. And God wants to give it to the world through us!
The Ultimate Source
It is important to remember that kindness originates in God. He sees our individual worth and continuously seeks to communicate it if we’ll only pay attention. Even for those who do not recognize Him as their Lord, we’re told that His kindness is poured out on them with the intention of leading them to turn to Him (Romans 2:4). Thus, when the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in our lives, kindness toward others is one of the results. We reflect this key aspect of God’s character when we let it grow within us and then choose to pass it on to others. A lack of kindness in our lives should have every Jesus follower asking why it’s not flowing from us like it flows from our Heavenly Father.
Open your eyes to see the kindness that’s being shown to you right now. And don’t ignore the tiniest prompt to honor and affirm the value of the person next to you. It’s God’s way.
Let it become yours.
*Read The Atlantic article for yourself: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573
(Edited and reposted from March 29, 2021)