By Virgil Gulker

Few words are so easily defined as kindness. For most people, this fruit of the Spirit is synonymous with caring, mercy, compassion, concern, gentleness and many other warm, fuzzy words. Only the meanest
of schoolyard bullies would not aspire to possess and exhibit these appealing qualities.

What these definitions miss, however, is the subtle power of kindness to change our lives and the lives of those around us-a power that transforms by moving us from preoccupation with self to involvement in
the lives of others.

Consider Sara’s experience. Like many of us, Sara never had any trouble loving Jesus. But “love thy neighbor” was a greater challenge. Oh, she loved her neighbor” in an abstract, theological sort of way. But she’d never really found a way to express that love in acts of kindness.

When a Christian organization asked her to deliver food to an impoverished single mother and her daughter, Sara cautiously agreed, though she’d never done anything like that before. Doubts flooded
Sara’s mind as she drove her Mercedes to a part of town she was visiting for the first time. But somehow she mustered the courage to knock on the door of the shabby trailer.

The woman who opened the door looked weary beyond her years. She said nothing, merely moving aside to let Sara enter the trailer and set the bag of groceries on the table.

When Sara turned to leave, she saw Lisa, the 6-year-old daughter. Lisa’s eyes moved slowly back and forth from Sara to the groceries. The youngster then ran across the trailer, wrapped her arms around Sara’s legs and whispered, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Sara was overwhelmed with compassion. She stooped to lift Lisa into her arms and tell her that she loved her too. Then Sara froze. Swarming in the child’s hair were thousands of lice. Sara could see them moving just inches from her face.

Wanting desperately to flee, Sara prayed: “Lord, don’t let me run away. Help me love this girl.” Sure enough, Jesus held her there, helping her to embrace this precious child who needed affirmation and kindness more than she needed food.

Neither Lisa nor Sara will ever forget that moment. Sara now challenges others in her church to get involved in showing kindness to people in need.

Fondness for Sara-and for each of us-is rooted in Jesus. My young daughters reminded me of this one day when they offered this brief definition: Kindness is Jesus. While I don’t understand many things
about Jesus, I do understand His kindness because I experience it each day.

Kindness is a measurable dimension of Jesus’ love, and the medium through which His love finds tangible expression in my life. Jesus is not a distant, benevolent deity; He is my Savior and Friend, who
actually provides for my needs.

Kindness Needs a “Neighbor”

Kindness, like the other fruit, is not ornamental. It exists to be shared and enjoyed by others. In fact, I’m convinced that kindness cannot exist without an object-a “neighbor.” Without that neighbor, my
kindness finds no expression and no real value.

The apostle Paul tells us we are “God’s workmanship, created in ChristJesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10, NIV). Those works are the natural outlet for our kindness. In Sara’s life, kindness was born when she looked beyond herself to care for a deprived child.

Kindness is a conscious decision to value another person at least as highly as we value ourselves. And that doesn’t mean just our family members and friends.

The God who is kind even to the “ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35) expects us to be kind to those who may be different from us and even to those we dislike. In fact, these folks may be the most in need of our
compassion and, in many cases, the least able to return our kindness.

Kindness protects and affirms the dignity of the other person. People who work in soup kitchens learn that lesson as part of their training. They’re asked to look into the eyes of the hungry person they serve.
The recipients become not homeless clients, but brothers and sisters in Christ!

One volunteer I know learned that lesson in an unforgettable way. She had prayed for courage to look into the eyes of the people she was serving. Imagine her astonishment one day at the soup kitchen when she looked into the eyes of her own sister.

Kindness isn’t an occasional event-like a holiday food basket-and it shouldn’t be confused with volunteerism. Kindness is an integral part of the Christian life; volunteerism is but one vehicle through which we transmit it to others. My godly parents, for example, never spoke of volunteerism when I was a child, but they were constantly involved in great acts of everyday kindness.

Kindness can take many forms: a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, a touch on the arm, a note of encouragement or an act of inclusion. Whatever the form, kindness takes practice and prayer. I pray each day that God will give me the opportunity to affirm the people He places in my path. Without prayer and practice I inevitably lapse back into myself.

Though kindness doesn’t require heroes, simple acts of kindness can have a profound impact on others. I was reminded of this truth when I once asked a 40-year veteran of ministy to the poor to share one
experience that best exemplified kindness.

“When I was a child living in an orphanage, there was simply no money,” she said. “Then one day, when I was in the eighth grade, a little girl gve me a birthday gift-a bobby pin, the only one she owned. I will
never forget that.”

In a world increasingly polarized by economic, racial, social and religious differences, kindness transcends these differences and gives its practitioners the precious opportunity to come alongside people who would otherwise resist them. Indeed, the question so often prompted by acts of kindness-Why did you do that for me? -opens the door to a powerful witness.

Believers who possess kindness have learned to share, affirm and love one life at a time. They see love where others see hatred; forgiveness where others see offense; reconciliation where others see separation; acceptance where others see rejection; hope where others see despair; and life where others see death.

Recent studies suggest that people who regularly help others actually live longer and feel better than those who are concerned only about themselves. Loving others-sharing kindness with othersappears to be good for us as well as for them. We’ll make that discovery ourselves the more we make it a daily practice to show kindness to our neighbors.

(The above information was published by CHARISMA, May 1993)

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