On the other side of all of the limitations that we accept for ourselves and project onto others is an awareness that each and everyone of us has the potential to be a greater contribution to the world than we might know. Conditioned by the illusion that there are some of us who are worthy and some who are not, we experience ourselves as being responsible for and capable of making those determinations. We are not. But I do not presume that I am likely to convince anyone of this. However, since I am on a roll of making a fool of myself in the hopes that more of us might take ownership of our awakening, I will put this out here.
There are no small kindnesses.
In a recent post that I wrote about the mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, TX, I wrote a prayer to God for God. As I was writing it, an old thought emerged from my mind in a new way–withholding kindness is no different than causing harm. The text of the entire prayer is below:
Suffering God, I’m sorry for my part in all of this needless suffering in the world. I apologize for any divisiveness or self-righteousness that might make me unapproachable to anyone. Help me to grow in compassion and to willingly change any behavior or belief that does not foster true unity and justice. Help me to remember that even the most mundane encounter with another can be an invitation to encounter and share in your life shifting grace. Let me never forget that withholding kindness is no different than causing harm. Therefore, help me to love myself as you love me so that I can clearly see how you can love all–even those who I am tempted to call “enemy”. Also God, I pray for your suffering to be relieved. Though you are infinitely gracious, I pray that I can be appropriately gracious as well, so that you do not have to continue to pick up my slack. From the awareness of your eternal love I pray.
When I wrote the line about withholding kindness, a wave of emotion washed over me as I considered the possibility that in any moment any one of us could encounter someone who was just minutes from doing something like what happened in Vegas or Sutherland Springs. From there I considered the possibility that in any one of those mundane moments of life, something I do or don’t do could communicate to someone their worth in our world or not and that without knowing it, I could make the difference between whether that someone acts on the destructive impulse to hurt others as they are convinced that they’ve been hurt.
Kindness is not ours to keep
When I was in my teens, I went through a phase when I wrestled with the societal pressures to conform to expectations of my station or to resist it and determine a better course for my life. I was confronted with the pain of this struggle one day in a D&G Grocery Store in Pascagoula, MS. As I walked around trying to decide what I wanted, I noticed an older white woman looking at me as if I were up to no good. As usual it frustrated me. My instincts were to see her as just as much of a threat to me as she imagined I was to her. This frustration brought on a hint of anger. Even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong, I felt the temptation to justify her projection in some way–perhaps an angry stare or to ask her what she was looking at. But I knew that would do nothing.
I decided to just figure out what I wanted and leave asap. As I was exiting the store, I saw that she was behind me pushing her cart in that zone where you have to make the decision to hold the door for a person or just let it close. The temptation? Let the door close. The kindness? Hold the door open for her. I quickly made the choice. I would hold the door.
As I held the door, I could have sworn that I saw her hesitate to walk through. The temptation? Let it go. The kindness? Smile and let her know that it was fine for her to come through. Even as I chose to smile I felt an ache in my inner being at the thought that she would see this kindness as some twisted confirmation that I was some kind of Stepin Fetchit that knew my place. The temptation? Withhold the kindness and let her know I didn’t have to do it. The realization? There was something on the other side of this kindness that I would not know unless I extended it.
Although I would not have expressed it that way at the time, something inside of me felt as if God was performing the kindness through me and that extending it was bigger than playing the role of an automatic door for a woman who would likely not appreciate it–at least not in that moment. And she didn’t as far as I could tell. She walked through, but didn’t say a word. I added a “have a nice day” for good measure. The temptation? Regret that I held the door for her. The gift? This warm feeling that said to me that in that nothing of an encounter I had overcome and transmuted a spoonful of hate and turned into something else.
For years after that encounter, my contribution to a more compatible world came in the form of holding doors for people, wishing them a nice day, and projecting onto them the awareness that God loves them. I don’t really know if all of those door openings did anything for the people, but I know what it did for me. It showed me that in every moment I have the choice to inject a little kindness. Over time I discovered that extending these little kindnesses intentionally was transforming more than just those little encounters. On a more subtle and yet very fundamental level, these acts were illuminating some of Christ’s teachings on kindness in a way that reading the Bible and listening to sermons never could.
In the day to day world, we have been convinced that when we perform a kindness it is something like a bonus or extra credit points for us. We never look at it doing harm when we don’t act on the kindness impulses that show up in us. Some of us believe ourselves to be peace keepers which usually is another way of saying we stay out of things and do nothing. It is time to finally see that this is harmful. As Einstein said, “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”
Just because acting on the kindness impulse in you may not ever lead to people erecting a statue in your honor, that is not an excuse to do nothing when presented with the opportunity. Remember, there are no small kindnesses. Perhaps you too may be a door opener or maybe you’ll feel called to pay someone’s toll or buy their coffee. Whatever it is, it has the potential to be life changing. Because, like the Spirit of Love out which even the most imperceptible kindness emerges, an intentional act of extending kindness goes on forever in a rippling effect.
If you’re looking for some inspiration on what these ripple causing events might look like and how you might act on your kindness impulses, check out these images of displays of Love and Kindness from the Pocketful of Smiles Blog by Candace Bisram.