given on Sunday, February 10, 2013
Kindness. Just one word, but one filled with so much promise. After going through the calendar last week and looking ahead at this week, kindness just kept catching my attention. Kindness is a character quality that seems to be missing in so many people in our global society and it is one that we long for in our own lives.
One short month, only 28 days, and yet it is the one month a year that repeatedly focuses on kindness. In the calendar review from last Sunday, we know that today begins the “Random acts of kindness” week. Valentines Day is the anchor for this week and this year is even smack dab in the middle—Wednesday, February 14.
For many, Valentines causes more heartache, angst, and sorrow than any other day of the year, and that is understandable when a culture emphasizes having a special relationship with just one individual. The retailers marketing gift-giving options to prove how much one loves another one then multiplies that pain. Doesn’t this destroy the very heart of the matter (pardon the pun)?
Let’s refocus our attention. There is no need to consider the secular basis of gift giving when the primary foundation of Christianity is love. Certainly the love principle is more encompassing than the gift-giving love retailers are highlighting. Love is that one great commandment and it must be the very heart (oops, another pun) of our lives.
Random Acts of Kindness became a movement back in the early 1980s according to Wikipedia:
“A random act of kindness is a selfless act performed by a person or people wishing to either assist or cheer up an individual person or people. The phrase may have been coined by Anne Herbert, who says that she wrote “Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty” on a place mat at a Sausalito restaurant in 1982 or 1983. Either spontaneous or planned, random acts of kindness are encouraged by various communities.” [Accessed on February 9, 2013 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Random_act_of_kindness]
At least that is the beginning of the movement according to the web’s largest encyclopedia, but is it?
As I was reading through the February 2, Solo entry (a devotional study written by Eugene H. Peterson), the verses from 2 Samuel 9 told a story of kindness. The simple, small story demonstrated how King David modeled kindness. His act of kindness was unexpected and out of the ordinary, especially after a military take over. Taking in the remaining family member of the deposed leader was unimaginable. Still David chose to offer kindness to someone else as a means of praising God.
Stop and think about that for a few moments. David chose to go against the culture, the social norms, and demonstrate an act of kindness. Why? No one was going to tell him no. No one was sitting around trying to calculate what value there would be in doing this. There was only good that came from such an action.
In fact, reviewing the entire history of mankind as recorded in the Bible, random acts of kindness began with God giving Adam and Eve the opportunity to live in the Garden of Eden. Stories throughout the Old Testament are filled with bad things, but consider how many bad things are canceled out by random acts of kindness.
One that stands out in my memory is Boaz’s treatment of Ruth and her mother Naomi. Destitute, hungry, and stepping out of the culture’s norms, Boaz made sure that Ruth was able to glean what she needed, unbothered by his own workers. That act of kindness ended happily for Ruth and her mother-in-law.
Happy endings are the immediate result of kindness, but the happiness is sometimes more valuable for the giver than the receiver. The act of kindness may relieve the receiver’s pain or the crisis of the moment, but for the giver, the value creates a lasting euphoria. A sense of goodness wells up inside one’s self that seems to perpetuate more giving. The snowball effect is unleashed by just one act of kindness. One act leads to another, to another, to another, and the snowball keeps growing.
Look back at 2 Samuel 9:3
The king asked, “Isn’t anyone left from the royal house of Saul? God has been very kind to me. I would like to be kind to someone in the same way.”
Just how many times do we receive kindness from God—or anyone else—and then offer another random act of kindness to someone else as a means of thanking God.
The contemporary movement, Random Acts of Kindness, may be accredited to Anne Herbert, but she certainly is not the first one who put that idea into action. The social climate when she did write this down was self-centered. But so was the climate when John Wesley was stepping away from the Church of England and promoting his “new” idea—do all the good that you can for all that you can whenever you can.
Kindness is ministry. Kindness is action. Kindness is radical hospitality, even risk-taking mission and extravagant generosity. This is not just the latest entry into social living, random acts of kindness is the foundation for Christian living. It is easy. It is random. It is serving as God’s arms and hands right here on earth right now!
This is the challenge—it is an old one, but put your own spin on it—make a conscious decision to demonstrate God’s love by practicing random acts of kindness. During Lent, which also begins with Ash Wednesday, February 13, add in one daily act of kindness. Just think what a difference those demonstrations of Christian love can make.
When the Sandy Hook Elementary School was devastated by the random act of violence, the outpouring of kindness has been miraculous. Even Ann Curry was so devastated that she sent out a challenge, too—20 (later 26) acts of kindness. She issued that challenge in a Tweet, a 21st century social connection that reaches millions.
The response to that challenge was immediate. The range of acts came from a thank you note to cash gifts, to paying for coffee, meals, even grocery-filled baskets. Curry created a national, dare we say international, difference by offering a challenge.
Traditionally Lent becomes a season of giving up something as a way of fasting. We are to use these 40 days to reflect on our own lives, our own relationship with God, and on God’s teachings. If acts of kindness can be done even once a day, just think what the return value will be for yourself, for your family, and for God.
Fasting can be giving up something in your diet, but it can be so much more. You can fast by giving up a TV show, by changing a daily habit, or by adding in something such as a scripture reading, quiet prayer time, or a random act of kindness.
What better time than this week, this Valentine’s Day, this year’s Lenten season is there to accept the challenge and find the personal transformation that such random acts of kindness. Take up the challenge and you will be taking up the cross, too. Being a Christian is offering acts of kindness at all times in as many ways as you can.
Dear Kind God,
Let us overlook our own pain and heartaches this Valentines
and look for others who need Your love.
As we read Your word,
show us the acts of kindness Your faithful servants
Guide us in finding the means to share Your love
one act at a time.
Thank you, too, for the kindness You offer to us
through the acts of others, also.
Thank you, for providing us the means and the ideas
that others may see as kindness done in Your name. –Amen