Try a little tenderness

Fruit of the spirit is kindness

By Brooke Stacia Demott

kindness“We rise by lifting others.”

— Robert Ingersoll

“Kindness” isn’t a word I’d use to describe the spirit of the 21st century.

To be fair, in my hometown of Oswego, people do still occasionally hold a door open for a woman. But as the generation of chivalry fades into memory, a harsh and aggressive posterity has crafted a far less polite world.

Congeniality, it seems, is outdated.

Irritated diners demand their right to a flawless meal from weary, underpaid servers. (“After all, I deserve it!”)

I’ve heard countless stories from consumers demanding discounts for everything from razors to international flights, just because they can.

We hunt down and verbally mutilate anyone with opposing views on social media, and trample each other to death Black Friday shopping at Walmart.

Last week, the cover page of a prominent New York publication showcased a picture of an unpopular national figure, ostentatiously declaring him, “The Worst Person Who Ever Lived.”

While kindness may be difficult to define, its absence is easily recognized.

Webster’s defines kindness as “sympathetic and helpful.” I like the Greek translation better — “honorable, gentle, displaying tender concern.”

One of my favorite working definitions of kindness is to simply give someone what they need.

This is no small task; it requires you to read a person, immerse yourself in their state, and empathize with great “tender concern” that drives an “honorable, gentle” response.

Kindness is not an act; it’s an art.

Like all other virtuous qualities, kindness tells us something of the character of God. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Mostly, we equate kindness with “niceness,” and likewise the opposite would be “meanness.” But it goes far deeper than that.

Kindness is an attitude of loving interest that precedes an act of generosity.

So, what does it really mean to be unkind?

It is unkind to:

— Withhold a need: Jesus said, even when your enemy is thirsty, you ought to give him a drink. If you can fill a need — for anyone — you should. Pay attention; needs aren’t always material.

— Give what isn’t needed: If your kid asks you for dinner, would you give him a rock? (Insert joke about how your kid deserves rocks for dinner).

Jesus asked that question as well, and the answer is no.

Kindness provides what is needed, not some lame substitute or half-hearted excuse.

Don’t simply enable

— Give help, when “help” isn’t helpful: That’s called enabling and requires wisdom to navigate. A person in crisis might need help immediately, but a person in constant crisis may just want their responsibilities attended for them, with minimal effort on their part. Be wise; sometimes it’s easier to “help” than to call a person to task. Kindness provides what is truly needed.

— Give false hope: If someone is dying, it isn’t kind to ignore it or entertain blind optimism. Sometimes, people die. And dying people are scared, sad, and in need of a different kind of hope; hope for an eternity reconciled with God. They need a friend who cares more about their soul than avoiding a painful topic.

— Give with ulterior motives: Accolades, praise, favors — any kind of giving that requires recognition isn’t kind; it’s selfish and easily spotted. Whether your giving is prompted by guilt, religious duty, or an interest in looking like a hero, you aren’t doing it right.

One time, we were in a grocery store and an elderly lady in the next lane was struggling to unload her cart. My 8-year-old son noticed, mentioned it, and four of my kids went to her lane and took care of her. Why? I didn’t make them, and they definitely aren’t perfect. What motivated them? Where does kindness come from?

“Every good and perfect gift comes from the Father.” (James 1:17) My kids were moved by the spirit of God to demonstrate kindness.

Kindness is a gift; and God’s gifts always have a purpose.

What is kindness for?

“Don’t you know? The kindness of God is intended to lead you to repentance and into His kingdom!” (Romans 2:4) Kindness is a gateway to Christ.

God’s spirit leads us to be kind, and kindness leads others to God.

Our lesser needs for healing, friendship and provision are echoes of our greatest and deepest need — to be freed from sin and reconciled to God.

Our deepest needs — for meaning, for rest — often seem destined to remain unfulfilled.

Sin distorts our vision so bad, we are blind to the reality of our condition. Thankfully, Christ gives sight to the blind.

All the good that we can do here is a shadow of a greater good that God has done for us.

God is kind; out of tender concern, He has given us everything we need in Jesus.

• Brooke Stacia Demott is a columnist with In Good Health newspaper. Got a question for Demott? Feel free to email her at brooketo@aol.com.

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