My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Kindness is more effective than meanness anyday

I was in Starbucks earlier this week, getting a coffee after a very long day. It hadn’t been a bad day necessarily; just crazy and stressful. And the cute little barista girl had this nutty bubbly personality. I thought she was just adorable, and as I was waiting for her to make my coffee, I noticed that she was wearing a set of earrings in the shape of the symbol for the Deathly Hallows. I’m sure they’ve been around for years, but I’d never seen a set like that before. So I told her how much I loved them, and she looked really surprised for a moment. And thanked me because she’d made them herself. She went back to making my coffee, and we continued chatting, just idle talk, and she told me as she handed my coffee over that she wished more people were like me–nice.

That kind of stuck with me (that and the fact that she also likes Doctor Who, which makes her awesome). She was a sweet, cute little barista. Why wouldn’t you be nice to her? But I guess people are people, and working with the public tends to teach you that. I remember the days working behind a counter, at the mercy of whichever customer got there first. And I guess I understand the concept of being rude and mean to make an impression, because it absolutely leaves an impression–it’s just not usually the impression you want to be remembered for.

Given the choice, wouldn’t you rather be remembered as the nice customer?

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

My beautiful latte from Café Nero at Waverly Station, Edinburgh, Scotland

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

This is something I think everyone struggles with, especially on bad days. Everyone has bad days. Everyone loses their cool. But I think this verse is talking about more than just the bad days. This verse is referring to a lifestyle. This is the way Christ-followers are supposed to behave. We’re not supposed to cut with our words; we’re supposed to build with our words. Everything we say should be encouraging and inspiring and helpful and kind. Now that doesn’t always mean that the people hearing it will respond in kind. They may get upset at us, but that’s up to them.

I can’t tell you how many times I have encountered unfriendly people who snap and bite and snarl because they want their way only to discover later that they are a professing Christian. That breaks my heart because as Christ followers we’re supposed to live a different kind of life. We’re supposed to know better than that. And I’m talking to myself here too because there are times when I get in a funk because my plans didn’t work out. There are times when I’ve gotten snappy with the lady on the other end of the telephone. But I hope I always try to be kind. I hope I always try to say good things. And when I don’t, I hope I always apologize.

Because there’s no disappointment like discovering a Christian behaving like that. Granted, just because we accept Christ doesn’t make us perfect. We’re still going to screw up, but our outlook should change. Our perspective should change. We shouldn’t use words and hurtful things to manipulate people anymore to get what we want; instead, we should trust that God will work things out the way He wants and it’s up to us to roll with the punches.

If you can walk into a place of business and be kind to everyone around you, you’ll be their biggest fan. I remember those customers when I worked at the WSU Library. I remember the ones who came in, who were kind, who were respectful, who were thoughtful and considerate. I remember them even now, and I haven’t worked there since 2006. But those people made me want to help them. Their kindness spurred me to do more for them than I needed to.

That’s what kindness does. It’s more effective than cruel manipulation any day, and it helps you build better relationships. And, what’s more, it helps you have a better day too.

So when you have the chance to get snappy today, don’t. When you’re faced with someone who you think is lazy and incompetent behind a counter and they’re not giving you the customer service you deserve, don’t get angry at them. Don’t take out your frustrations on them. You have no idea what’s going on in their lives. You have no idea what terrible troubles they’re facing right now. Be kind. Say something nice to them. Say something uplifting to them.

You’ll make their day, and I’m willing to bet that your day will probably get better too.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Kindness that meets real needs

Whenever I think of being kind, I always think of rewinding rented VHS tapes after the movie is over. I know. I’m dating myself. I fully believe DVDs were invented so people didn’t have to waste time rewinding video tapes at the end of the movie. But imagine how irritating that had to be for people who worked in rental places–having to rewind tapes constantly when it should have been the job of the people who rented the movie.

In my mind, kindness is action. It’s sort of like love. We’re commanded to be kind, so it’s a lifestyle choice. But what is it exactly? I’ve been studying the Fruit of the Spirit this month. Again, I don’t know Greek, but I can read a definition. And kindness (χρηστότης) kind of threw me for a loop because it doesn’t really mean what I thought I thought it meant.

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat beginning to ripen at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Colossians 3:12

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

This is one of the ten or so occurrences of the word kindness (χρηστότης) in the New Testament. According to this word study I’m doing, this word actually means “useful kindness,” referring to “meeting real needs, in God’s way, in His timing or fashion.”

See? Not what I thought it meant. I thought kindness was just being nice to people, whether they deserve it or not. Another definition of this type of kindness is “Spirit-produced goodness which meets the need and avoids human harshness or cruelty.” When it comes right down to it, the English language doesn’t have a word to define this idea of being both kind and good.

So where does that leave us? This kindness is a gift that God gives us when we choose to accept Christ into our lives. It’s something the Holy Spirit will produce in our lives if we let Him, but what does it look like?

I actually had a conversation with my best friend yesterday over Skype. Not the video chat but the texting kind of Skype. (Just saying, Skype has saved my sanity while she’s been on her year-long adventure in England because trying to function on a day-to-day basis without the other half of my brain has been very difficult.) But she was asking me how I was doing, and answering honestly I have to say I’m frustated because I’m at a point in my life where everything around me seems to be going wrong but I only have the time to help with parts of it.

Right now, I have major projects at work that I have to focus on. I have trips to plan for. I have responsibilities at church for ministries. I have major storm damage at my house. My mother is sick. My parents’ house has termites. I have all these friends who are graduating from college or getting married. And some of my closest friends–my sisters even–have experienced loss in their lives. And I want to fix all of it, but I can’t.

To me, in my mind, kindness is killing myself to provide for all of these problems. I want to run around and fix everyone’s issues. But I can’t. Even if I could do that, there’s too much. But the kindness that is a Fruit of the Spirit isn’t killing myself to be kind. It’s not kindness at the expense of my sanity. It’s helping people the way God helps people. It’s meeting the real needs the way God cuts through the clutter of our lives and deals with the real problems. And let’s be honest about this: None of us can do that on our own.

I’m a fixer, and I don’t like to think that there’s something that I can’t fix. But this is an unavoidable truth of being a follower of Christ. Being a follower of Christ means you accept there are some things you can’t fix. Some things you have to rely on God to fix.

Am I saying don’t even try? Am I saying to stop trying to help people? Absolutely not. We are here to support each other and help each other through life. But this type of kindness isn’t about running around like a crazy person, killing yourself to do good for people. This type of kindness meets real need. It cuts to the core of the problem.

Maybe in some instances it’s obvious. Maybe in some instances you already know what the real need is. But sometimes I don’t think we know until God reveals it to us, and when He reveals what the core problem is, then He will equip us to meet that need. And if He doesn’t, maybe you’re not the one who needs to barge in with your two cents. As a person who often barges in where angels fear to tread, that’s something for me to think about.

If you see a child getting ready to be run over by a car, go get the child. If you know someone has run out of gas, take them to the gas station so they can fill up their car. Meet needs. In most circumstances it feel like we try to fix external issues instead of the root of the problem. We try to control behavior instead of fixing the heart, and that’s where the problem is. It’s our hearts that need to be healed, and God is the only one who can do that. So if all we are able to do in our lives is point someone else to Christ, then we’ve done our job.

If you see a real need, meet it. But meet it the way God would and make sure you’re clear on why you’re doing it, because otherwise the person you’re helping may not understand that you’re acting on behalf of God.

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Being kind doesn’t require moral compromise

Have you noticed that our world seems to thrive on the actions and statements of mean people? The entertainment industry is built on conflict, and while you can’t have a good story without conflict, you won’t have a good message without resolution. And I think we tend to forget that part and just focus on the conflict.

When I think of conflict anymore, I think of “reality” TV shows. I don’t watch them, but I hear about them. And honestly I don’t understand the allure of watching a group of people (whether they are stranded on an island, locked in a house, or trying to find a wife) act like idiots and treat each other like dirt. It’s been said that entertainment is the mirror of a society. What we like to watch is a statement about what kind of people we are. That’s been true since Rome was in charge.

So if we spend all our time watching or listening to mean people being mean to each other, what does that say about us?

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Milo growing in the yard at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Galatians 5:22-23.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

This month I’m studying the Fruit of the Spirit, the nine character qualities or life responses that are evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives, and the focus for today is kindness. I grew up in church with the King James Version, and that translation uses the word gentleness instead of kindness. And I don’t suppose there’s too much difference between those two words, but they aren’t the same. And I recently discovered something that makes me very happy: an online Strong’s concordance (http://www.equipgodspeople.com).

If you’ve never used a Strong’s concordance, they’re awesome. It’s a Bible study tool that assigns numbers to Greek words for easy cross referencing. Let’s take kindness for example. In Greek, it looks like this: χρηστοτης. This word is assigned a number (5544), and if you look up this number in this online concordance, it will list all the times the same word appears so you can cross reference the specific context of the word in more than one situation.

Like χρηστοτης, it’s used only 10 times in the entire New Testament and in most instances it’s used in the context of how God relates to us in His goodness. It’s translated as both kind and good, like gentleness that stems from moral integrity. Do you know anyone like that? Do you know a person who responds to others with that sort of kindness?

This is the kindness that sees and understands that people aren’t perfect and chooses to be nice to them anyway. This is the kindness that God shows us because He is good 100%, and even though we don’t deserve it, He does it anyway. That’s the sort of kindness we need in our lives, and that’s what the Holy Spirit will produce if we allow Him to.

I want to be a good person, yes. I want to be the sort of Christ follower that stands out, who others know is different, but not at the expense of how I treat people. I know Christ followers who are unkind. I’m sure everyone does. But, boy, are they are good Christians! Those types of Christians have the kind of knowledge of Scripture that would take me a lifetime to obtain. They know so much about the Bible. They know references and definitions and everything.

But how does that person treat the people around them? Do they think they’re better? Do they have to condescend to speak to people who don’t know as much as they do? Do they look down their noses at people who don’t know the Bible as well?

That’s been my experience. I can tell you that the people in my life who have hurt me the most are the ones who spend most of their time buried in the Bible, but it’s one thing to know Scripture. It’s something else to live it, to integrate it into your thoughts and your life, to let it change you from the inside out and to listen to the Spirit when He’s talking to you. That’s how the Bible changes you. That’s what makes it a Living Book.

And I would rather understand who God is and understand the context of how we’re supposed to live than to be able to quote references and parse Greek. Don’t get me wrong, I would love to be able to do that, but to learn to do that would take so much of my life at this point that I would have to drop the other things I’m doing–like reaching out to people.

I don’t believe the Holy Spirit would call us to kindness at the expense of our relationships. Moral integrity is great, yes, but personally I don’t think it’s true moral integrity if you treat others poorly. I don’t think it’s honoring to God if you withhold kindness from anyone.

Yes, if it’s a horrible person who is only going to hurt you, don’t invite them into a close relationship with you. Be wise about your friendships. But you can still be kind, and the Holy Spirit will tell you how. He’ll give you the strength to be kind.

So as we venture out into a world of reality TV shows where cruelty is glorified, let’s be kind. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to show us the way to show kindness to people. We don’t have to compromise what we know is right to be kind to others. But if we don’t start showing kindness to people, I’m not sure that we’ll ever really make a difference.

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Love mercy

When someone wrongs you, how do you respond? Do you get angry at them? Do you hold a grudge? Do you respond in kind? After all, if they’ve been mean to you, it’s only logical that you should be mean back, right? An eye for an eye?

Well, that’s not what we’re supposed to do. It feels right to reciprocate when someone does wrong to us, but it’s not the way we’re supposed to live. And it’s not what God expects from us.

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Pile of pine cones at Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verse is Micah 6:8.

No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God.

Yesterday we talked about doing what is right, and today we’re going to talk about what it means to love mercy. I would love to tell you that I have this figured out, but I don’t. Actually I struggle with this one a lot. Because I don’t have a problem loving people who are kind to me. It’s loving buttheads that comes hard.

If someone is unreasonable with me, I tend to think they’re just being difficult because they can. If someone is rude to me, I tend to think they’re stuck up and snobbish. If someone acts hateful or treats me like a lesser life form, I tend to treat them the same way. But that’s not what loving mercy is about.

Mercy is withholding just punishment. It means you don’t get what you deserve. The best example is what Christ did for us on the cross. He died a brutal, savage death in our place–in my place. I deserve to go to hell, but because Christ loved me and gave Himself for me, I don’t have to. That’s mercy. That’s God not giving me what I deserve.

God loves mercy. And God expects us to love mercy too.

God gives us mercy every day. I mean, unless you’re perfect all the time, you need mercy every hour. I do. Maybe you’re a better person than I am, but I think things I’m not supposed to. I think hurtful things. I think dangerous things. I say mean things. And each one of those expressions of discontent or attitude or pride demonstrate that I love making myself feel better more than mercy.

If loved mercy like I was supposed to, I would jump at the opportunity to forgive someone for how they hurt me. Loving mercy is being kind especially to the people who don’t deserve our kindness. And I’m not talking about running out your door and finding someone who you barely know and looking for ways to be kind to them. You can do that if you want, but I’m willing to bet that there’s someone in your life–someone you already know–who could use some mercy.

People are people everywhere. I know a couple of people who drive me insane. I just want to throttle them half the time, and the other half of the time I usually just try to ignore them. But neither response is very merciful.

And please don’t misunderstand. There’s also a verse in scripture about throwing pearls before swine. You don’t want to waste your time and effort investing in someone who is just going to turn around and attack you. But whether they attack you or not, whether they waste your time or not, you can still be kind in your dealings with them. And that’s what it means to love mercy.

So that’s my goal today. I want to love mercy. I want to focus on being kind to people around me, especially if they don’t deserve kindness. I want to look for opportunities to extend mercy to people around me, and then I want to be brave enough to tell them why. Because if you’re just being kind to people without them understanding why, what’s the point? But if they can wrap their head around the fact that you are choosing mercy over how the world says to live because you believe in Christ, you never know how that might change someone else.

Focus on what matters. Love mercy.