Close to 20 years ago, I read a book entitled, Conspiracy of Kindness, by Steve Sjogren. It has stayed with me ever since. The author’s premise is that we share the love of Christ and evangelize the world through our intentional kindness to others.
Kindness. Why does it stand out? What makes it different from general niceness? The dictionary defines kind as: mild, benign, gentle, tender, compassionate. Kind, gracious, kindhearted, kindly imply a sympathetic attitude toward others, and a willingness to do good or give pleasure. Kind implies a deep-seated characteristic shown either habitually or on occasion by considerate behavior.
Toby Mac, the Christian singer/songwriter, says, “We don’t have to agree on anything to be kind to one another.” There is so much power and beauty in that statement.
Think about the people you are most drawn to. Are they kind? Do they have a generosity and graciousness about them that puts others first? A sincerity that is deeply felt? A deep-seated characteristic of compassion? Many years ago, I came to understand that this is what kindness looks like. As to man, kindness draws others to God. And thus, Steve Sjogren’s book invaded my heart and mind, caught hold and never let go.
I wish I could say that I am always kind. That Sjogren’s words and those of the gospel have made me perfect in this regard. What is true is that I deeply hold to the value of and mission to be kind to others, but I also deeply hold to my own agenda – self preservation. And thus the two are in constant battle.
However, there are moments when my heart is at rest and I am willing to hear the voice of the Author of kindness call me forth to take up His agenda.
Much of the time this battle rages in my car. As I am in a perpetual rush to get from point A to point B, fighting traffic and wondering if driver’s licenses are mail-order only, my agenda is in full force. Overdrive, if you will. And yet, it is in my car that I find myself face to face with humanity. And people who need kindness.
Every street corner in the city is home to someone begging for enough something to get through the day. Although I know that many of these people are there because of their choices and remain so because of more choices, my heart continually goes out to them. I think, this is what they have become? This is the only option? What is it that happened in their life to bring them here? How hard must that reality be. And I seek to be kind. What can I offer that will make a lasting difference? What can I do to point them to the One who can redeem them in this hard life?
Recently, I had a new encounter. A new opportunity to wonder about what kindness looks like.
I was driving to work, making my way through traffic and around potholes, excitedly heading for the green light. For some reason, the cars in front of me were backed up into the intersection. They seemed to be going around something in the crosswalk. I could see a man standing on the corner and assumed it was a new sinkhole in the street they were avoiding. Both lanes of traffic were stopped to accommodate the cars in front of me that were changing lanes. As the car directly in front of me cleared the intersection, I saw what it was they were driving around.
The man I had thought was standing on the corner, was in fact, in the middle of the crosswalk. My perspective from down the street had been wrong. Why was he in the crosswalk? Was he drunk? Crazy? Uncaring? People with all of those reasons often walk in front of traffic here. No. One look at this man, and it was apparent – he must have been in his late 70’s, although life could have aged a much younger man to look as old. The left side of his body was clearly affected by a severe stroke, as evidenced by his twisted left hand, the cane in his right and his painstakingly slow shuffles across the street. This man was in the crosswalk because he was not physically able to cross the street in the time allowed by the lights. And the people in front of me? Instead of waiting, they perpetuated the problem by driving in front of him to get to work on time. He was stuck.
Oh. Kindness. What does it look like? Here I was, idling in the middle of the intersection. In the medical center. Where emergency vehicles often race lights and sirens to get to the ERs. But how could I not let that man cross? If I would wait and give him the go-ahead to walk just a few more steps, he would be in front of the vehicle waiting next to me and I could clear the street. This was no skin off my nose. In my opinion, it was the only choice. My heart had broken to find him here, in this dangerous predicament, with others who would not wait.
As I made my way down the street, I wondered at his story. Why was he there? What was around for him to be making his way? This was not a common crossing area at such a busy intersection during rush-hour traffic. And it hit me. He was wearing a veterans baseball cap. And making his way to the VA across the street! Where he came from I do not know, but I now knew where he was heading.
I often pass people in need that I would love to pick up and take someplace safe, but I do not. I have to consider the risks. This time I weighed them, turned my car around and drove back to the intersection. I reasoned that this man, elderly and disabled, crossing to the VA at 8:30 on a busy Wednesday morning would be worth the risk of offering him a ride. As I pulled up to the red light, he was stopped in the middle of the median, too far for me to speak to without yelling. So I called to him. I asked where he was going. He pointed to the VA. I asked if he wanted a ride. He shook his head no. And I went on my way.
I left him, wondering if I had done the right thing. If there was something more I should have done. But I knew that I had done all that I could in that moment. That I hadn’t let the opportunity pass me by, as I have so many times before.
Today, I heard a former Muslim speak at church. Nabeel Qureshi was raised a devout believer of Islam. Today, as a believer in Christ, he recounted the story of a time when a high school peer shared the gospel with him. Although the encounter did not result in his conversion, it impacted him greatly. Betsy shared her faith with him and he refuted it. But it was the dozens of other Christians who were silent that left him pause. He said, “if it is true that Christians believe the only way to heaven is by Jesus Christ and anyone who does not know Him will go to hell, why would they not tell others about him? I concluded it must be one of two reasons 1. they do not really believe that it is true or 2. they do not care if I go to hell.”
If I believe that Jesus Christ is the only answer to a hurting and dying world, why do I not share the gospel with others? If I really believe Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, how do I do that? I have come to know that when I offer kindness to others, I do that very thing. I am grateful for the times I hear the Voice and am willing to respond. I wish I could say those stars aligned more frequently.
I am always looking for new ways to be kind. I need to have ideas on hand for those unexpected opportunities. What kind things do you do for others? Would you have done something differently for the man in the street? What have others done for you that has made a lasting impression? How do you share the love and kindness of Christ with friends and strangers alike?