A few years ago, I was making the rounds at our church’s Easter fellowship breakfast. As most of you know, I’m a pastor. And every Easter Sunday, our church holds two celebration services with a breakfast fellowship in between. This particular Easter, I was circulating among those at the breakfast fellowship, shaking hands and offering words of greeting and encouragement. And I came face to face with a woman who was (at the time – and, if I’m honest, quite often) angry with me. I put a sincere smile on my face and wished her a Happy Easter. She looked at me, grunted, and walked away.
While most people are at least perfunctorily polite at church, I can’t say the above incident was the only time I’ve experienced a lack of kindness. Far from it. Over the years, I’ve had the experience of greeting people with kindness, only to have that greeting rebuffed, ignored, or dismissed. Why? Because too many people (even in church) act based primarily on their feelings. If they feel like being nice, they’ll be nice. If they don’t feel like being nice, they won’t be.
Henry James once said: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.” Life is tough. Sometimes, it can be very tough. A kind word and a smile can go a long way to brighten someone’s day. And people need their days brightened. To withhold kindness from someone is to say to that person: “I don’t want to brighten your day.”
A person will often justify withholding kindness for a myriad of reasons. The excuses often include:
- “I’m having a terrible day!”
- “I’m tired.”
- “That person wasn’t kind to me.”
- “I’m running late.”
- “I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
- “He hurt me.”
- “She betrayed me.”
- And the list goes on.
Kindness isn’t something we extend, however, only when the other person deserves it or only when we feel like giving it. At least it shouldn’t be that way. If we base our kindness only on our feelings, then we’re not really being kind. We’re just being. We’re just following our feelings where they lead. Emotionally healthy and mature adults know better and they act better. Emotionally healthy and mature adults understand they need to lead their feelings, rather than follow their feelings.
Jesus says we are to love our neighbor, and Paul the Apostle writes that we should “esteem others better” than ourselves. It is inconsistent with those teachings to withhold kindness from the people in our life.
But what about those excuses? Well…here’s how I would respond to those….
“I’m having a terrible day!” Okay, but why make someone else’s day terrible? How does that help you? And maybe…just maybe…your kindness (even when you’re having a bad day) will create a reaction in the other person that will bless you in return. But even if not, there’s no morally justifiable reason to rain on someone else’s day because you have some rain in yours.
“I’m tired.” Then do your best to be kind anyway. And if you can’t muster the energy, then you can at least communicate to the person that your mood is based on your fatigue and not because of them.
“That person wasn’t kind to me.” Is this kindergarten? It’s one thing to walk away from a person who is being overly rude, obnoxious, and hurtful. That is fine and sometimes necessary. It’s another to get into a tit for tat situation. The former is a way of protecting yourself. The latter is petty.
“I’m running late.” Then say so with a smile. And, next time, try not to run late.
“I’ve got a lot on my mind.” Then say so….while being kind.
“He hurt me.” And….? Was it intentional? Was it punitive? Did the other person hurt you because of his (or her) desire to hurt you? Or was the hurt accidental or inadvertent? Or are you hurt because you had unfair or unrealistic expectations of the other person or a situation that person was involved in? Do some honest analysis on why you were hurt. And, after that analysis, talk (kindly) with the person about it. If the person is being intentionally hurtful, then you should, if possible, put some space between you and that person as a means of protecting yourself.
“She betrayed me.” Jesus says “Love your enemies” and “Do good” to those who hurt you. That’s a tall order, but that’s the right way to respond. Of course, you can (constructively and from the heart) express to the person how their actions, or betrayal, hurt you – and why. If they are receptive, then you have succeeded in turning a bad situation into a learning opportunity and an opportunity for reconciliation and perhaps even the deepening of a friendship. If they’re not, then you may need some space and you can certainly reevaluate your level of trust and expectations in that person, but it’s not a justification for you to be mean, unkind, or retaliatory to them.
The excuses can be endless, yet none of them really excuse a lack of kindness. Don’t make excuses. Be kind. Don’t follow your feelings. Lead them.
The late American journalist George Elliston once wrote: “How beautiful a day can be when kindness touches it!” Make it your goal to touch as many people with kindness as you can (no matter how you feel) so that you can bring as much beauty into their days as possible.