“I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” ~Gandalf (J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit)
I went into marriage with a chip on my shoulder and an escape plan firmly in place. Prickly, quick to anger, ready for a fight at the slightest provocation. Because of my father’s alcoholism, I watched our family walk on eggshells, tiptoeing around his moods, careful not to provoke his anger. I swore I would never live that way again. As is often the case in the healing process, I over-corrected and sometimes went too far in the other direction. I was adamant no one was going to push me around or take advantage of me again. I would speak my mind and defend my point of view, whatever the cost. Being strong and independent was my highest value.
A few years into our marriage, it became clear we were both going to have to make some changes. My husband, as all of us do, entered marriage with his own set of baggage, and we had to learn how to fight fair. I couldn’t yell and call names; he couldn’t hide and hope I would go away. We had to learn how to listen, stay in the conversation, and be gentle with one another.
I learned how to be kind, even when I’m mad.
My husband and I recently celebrated our thirtieth wedding anniversary. Our marriage is still a work in progress, but I can’t remember the last time one of us (okay, that would be me) raised his or her voice when we disagreed. If someone were to ask either of us how we make this partnership work after a lifetime together, I think we would each say our biggest secret to success is being nice to each other most of the time. We repeatedly choose kindness, even when the alternative would be easier. We mess up, we say I’m sorry, and we try again. Being kind on purpose is hard, holy, brave work.
Being kind seems like an obvious choice, but a quick glance at the comment thread on any social media discussion reminds us how little we value kindness in our culture these days. Being right trumps being kind in more and more circumstances. Our cynicism and disrespect are obvious as we express our frustration over those with whom we disagree, the snark and sarcasm sometimes seeping into our conversations about those we love. While it’s clear that many, many battles are worthy of our passion, it seems we are drowning in the sea of our anger and vitriol. Holding tight to kindness as a value often feels like a losing battle.
Being kind is a radical, countercultural choice. It requires vulnerability, trust, humility, and a willingness to relinquish my need to be right and in control. Being kind requires effort and intentionality. Practicing kindness in my home helps me be kinder in the world. For me, being kind consistently requires a deep connection to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in my life. Simply put, praying makes me kinder.
God of compassion, help us change the world by being kind. Although we never want to settle for injustice…
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