The above words are framed on the wall of a friend’s home. They need to be in our hearts as well. There’s an old adage that says, “People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Kindness, just pure thoughtfulness, courtesy and an encouraging word. You cannot put a price tag on these things. Yet, they are among the most valuable things in the world. We actually could not make it through life without them.
“Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
Words can make or break a person’s day. They can cause bloodshed and death, when ill spoken. They can cause headaches, stomach-aches and neck-aches. Or, they can lift a person to cloud nine. Has anyone ever hurt you with unkind words? They’re not easy to swallow. Surveys show that 55% of divorces are caused by verbal abuse.
Kindness will never go out of style. I had an experience recently that will stay with me as long as I live. I had gone to a local men’s store to buy a new tie. I saw the sign immediately: Buy One, Get One Free. I thought, “I may be in luck.” While browsing around, I introduced myself to a young man, Charles, who was waiting for alterations. Charles saw that I was a little handicapped, so he started helping me by placing ties on the table. Not only ties, but shirts, and eventually, suits. “This will go with that,” he kept saying as he held up a suit or a shirt. Finally, I ended up with two ties, two shirts and two suits. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I estimated that I had about $650 worth of clothing. (All I wanted was one tie).
Charles pushed ahead of me to check out, which I thought was a little rude until the cashier—now get this—told me that Charles had paid for my stuff. “What!?” I asked, dumbfounded. “Are you sure??” I asked him three times. “Yes sir, he paid for all of yours.” “Yes, he did that.” “Yes sir, you don’t owe a penny.” I was deeply moved by his kindness. Things like that can only happen out of a generous heart. He was not looking for praise or publicity. He did it for the joy of giving.
Wonderful as random acts of kindness are, kindness extends far beyond randomness, however. It begins at home, with the people who share your space, people you talk with at dinner. Kindness is fleshed out in the daily relationships at work, and at school, and in the political arena, as well as at home. “Being kinder than necessary” is a good saying for the best behavior.
Have you ever noticed that you can be kinder to the stranger at the grocery store than the person you live with? The events of the Prodigal Son in the New Testament (see Luke 15) are a prime example. It is easy to sympathize with the older brother who stayed at home and behaved himself, while his careless brother was having a big fling during Easter break. It’s the one who gets into trouble who gets most of our attention. No doubt, the father loved both of his sons; but the idea that he loved the prodigal more is false. The father was kind to both, but the older brother forgot about that and kept pouting. Jealousy can mess up a lot of things. The father’s words to the older son should have been enough: “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost but is now found.”
“Kindness does not mean the preservation of one life at the expense of the all. It is an instinctive cooperation with the larger web of life. Those who choose to live outside this law are no longer kindred with life—a fact that human beings would be well to remember if we wish to continue.” (From the “Celtic Spirit” by Caitlin Matthews)
So let’s be kinder than necessary. Life for all of us will be a lot better if we are. If the inner life (faith) does not overcome the outer life (our culture), then the outer life could swallow us whole. Kindness needs to be practiced with everyone we meet, friends, family, stranger, animals or the soil in the garden and the water in the pond. Kindness is a form or expression of love, which holds our world together. Amen.