Whakatupu - Cultivate - Kindness
Kindness is one of those traits that can sound weak in comparison with the modern ideals of strength, independence, efficiency and success. Yet in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, it sits as one of the primary virtues of the life that is lived in tune with what God is like and with God’s way of being in the world. And because these virtues are ‘fruit of the Spirit’, Paul is suggesting that kindness comes from God because it is one of God’s primary attributes. God is kind.
And kindness is intimately connected to love. Throughout the scriptures, the authors write of God’s “loving kindness,” and the Apostle Paul speaks of love as being ‘patient and kind’. So, if you want to know what love looks like, then know that it looks like kindness.
In Romans 2:4 the apostle Paul talks of it being God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (or, in other words, into a changed life). That which God offers us so that our life might be transformed, is not a threat of vengeance or violence… but kindness. And because God is kind, we are invited into a life of cultivating kindness toward others. It is a fruit of the divine Spirit at work in our lives.
So, what does it look like to cultivate a life of kindness?
The ancient Hebrew prophet Micah suggests that we should learn to love kindness. Micah 6:8: “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
It is not simply about trying to do kind things – it is about coming to love kindness.
In contemplating the role of kindness in my life, I have been reflecting on the many ways in which others have been kind to me. It is a humbling experience to consider the kindness of others: kindness in words, in generosity, in making space for me. If I was to eliminate the kindness of others from my experience, my life would be a mess.
Kindness has power to change and transform.
The late Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donohue says that:
“The word kindness has a gentle sound that seems to echo the presence of compassionate goodness. When someone is kind to you, you feel understood and seen. There is no judgment or harsh perception directed toward you. Kindness has gracious eyes; it is not small-minded or competitive; it wants nothing back for itself. Kindness strikes a resonance with the depths of your own heart; it also suggests that your vulnerability, though somehow exposed, is not taken advantage of; rather, it has become an occasion for dignity and empathy. Kindness casts a different light, an evening light that has the depth of color and patience to illuminate what is complex and rich in difference.”
Kindness also emerges in us when we allow ourselves to feel our own pain, and the pain of others. God’s kindness is most powerfully and fully demonstrated through Jesus, who enters into our suffering with us. When we experience pain, difficulty, challenge, sadness and grief, we can allow those experiences – difficult as they are – to foster in us a greater desire for kindness in the world. To be kind to others, because we don’t know what pain they’re carrying, what they’re going through, what journey they’re on.
An excerpt from Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem on kindness captures this idea beautifully.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Finally, we need to learn to be kind to ourselves. If it is God’s kindness that leads us to change, then it is also self-kindness that can help us to live the life we desire to live. Some of us are masters at being kind to others but awful to ourselves. When we look at the parts of our lives that we’d like to change, we may not want to be kind to ourselves because we feel like that would be accepting the unacceptable… and yet ironically, it is the kindness that we demonstrate to ourselves that might just be what is necessary to see our own transformation begin to unfold.
As we seek to love kindness,
may we come to know and receive the kindness of God,
may we remember the kindness of others,
may we inhabit our own sorrow and that of others, and find it to be an invitation into kindness,
and may we learn to be kind to ourselves,
so that we might be human again.