not-so-random acts of kindness

As the mother of three small children, I often find myself mindlessly shrieking, “Be KIND to each other, PLEASE!” So much so that when I ask one of my kids to spend some time in their rooms to calm down and collect themselves (Ok, you caught me, it’s a time out), they often come down saying, “Ok, Mom, I’m ready to be kind now.” Kindness is one of our core family values; it’s something that we strive for and urge our kids towards, even when it’s hard.

But as my kids get older and begin to question why kindness is important, I find myself faced with a lot of my own questions- namely, what has kindness come to mean in our culture, and what does that mean for truly lasting and loving kindness? 

The concept of “random acts of kindness” is not new. People joke around a lot about doing their “good deed for the day”. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve seen friends post on Facebook about buying a drink for the person behind them at the coffee shop. And yes, this is a nice thing to do. But, in my own humble opinion, that act doesn’t hold a candle to turning around, making eye contact with that person behind you, and giving them a genuine smile.  The difference is human connection, human love. One is just hot caffeine. The other is a recognition of God dwelling within the other person.

Our culture wants to make kindness a commodity. It says kindness is what you can do for someone else. Or rather, what you can buy for someone else- with your money, or time, or influence. It becomes a transaction. Want to be kind? Send someone a card! Buy them a gift!  Do some of their chores! And admittedly, this is a very tempting proposal. It’s easier to spend a few bucks on a cup of coffee than it is to sit with a hurting friend. A cup of coffee doesn’t require us to be vulnerable or give of our own selves in a way that really costs something, does it? Our culture confuses a good deed with a true act of kindness.

Good deeds are, truly, wonderful things to do.  They often ARE acts of loving kindness, and they’ll always have a place in our lives. But if we keep ourselves busy with these “random” acts of kindness, we run the risk of forgetting that kindness flows not from our deeds, but from our hearts, when we truly see Christ in others and act from that place of reverence for God in them. What is kindness but an acknowledgment of the sacred in another human being? This is why sometimes kindness can mean telling a friend a hard truth.  It can mean making a decision that will make your kids very angry with you. It sometimes looks like withdrawing from a relationship while someone works some things out for themself. True kindness is often not a feel-good experience where everyone walks away with a macchiato and a warm, tingly feeling about humanity-at-large.

What the world needs now is not some watered-down concept of kindness. It’s a bold love-in-action type of kindness that’s necessary to endure a world that’s often filled with desperation and pain. It’s a seeking out of those for whom kindness is alien and strange, those who desperately need to feel Christ’s light in their life. It’s a steadfast dedication to being a mirror of God’s love, instead of merely absorbing it.

Let’s let our acts of kindness not be random. Let’s not stop at “one good deed for the day”. Let’s act with meaningful, purposeful kindness, all day, every day- in our families, in our communities, and far beyond. The world needs more acts of kindness that cost us something more than a couple bucks.

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