The kindness that comes out of my mouth doesn’t always reflect kindness in my heart.
There are times when my jaw clenches around the kind words and platitudes that I’m speaking while my head thinks less than gracious thoughts about the person I’m speaking to. There, now people who speak with me will be looking for the tightening of my facial muscles and wondering.
One of the gifts my parents gave me was what I call the ‘social niceties’. There are ways we treat people and ways we speak to people and there are ways that we don’t.
Don’t talk people down, don’t raise your voice, don’t insult them, don’t talk behind their back.
Do be polite, do ask nicely for things, do listen to others, do onto others as you’d like them to do unto you.
And I try. And I try to teach this and model this for my children because I see an intense importance in treating others well.
So it might seem, if I was dishonest, that the Fruit of the Spirit of kindness was one I already had in the bag.
But if there’s one thing that I’ve learned through this study of the Fruits of the Spirit is that the outward manifestations of these attributes have to reflect an inward working.
It’s not enough just to pay lip service to kindness. I have to seek a changing attitude and a soft heart towards people, not just a clenched jaw around social platitudes.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love,which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Colossians 3:12-14
As with so many of the Fruits of the Spirit, the starting point is our realization first of God’s great and incomprehensible love for us. If I look at myself, really look at myself (something which I’m reluctant to do too often, unfortunately) I start to see the places where I’m pretty unloveable. And yet, the God of the universe sees me as I am, loves me anyway, and sees who I can be.
Any of my compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, springs out of that love he has for me.
And as I see the truth of myself and relish in his kindness and forgiveness, that humility and truth needs to be played out in community.
When I look at others, I need to see them through the lens of his forgiveness of my sin. Sometimes their sins are hidden or visible, but my kindness doesn’t come from their goodness, it comes from God’s goodness.
I need to look at them through the lens of God’s mercy and love for me. And yes, his loving-kindness.
Because when my jaw tightens while talking to that person, what am I focussing on?
Am I focussing on how they annoy me or how God created them?
Am I focussing on their frustrating and repeated patterns of behavior or the journey God has them on (which he also has ME on)?
Do I see their multiple slights and digs or do I see their pain that God’s loving hands can heal?
What if I could let God loosen my jaw and soften my heart so that kindness is a compulsion, not an obligation?
What if I just couldn’t help the kind words in my head from spilling out of my mouth?
What if I loved as God loved me and my kindness outpoured from that?
And this is my hope and my strength. The sustaining that God gives me to pour out his love through my growing-up heart.