Mr. Clark just stopped by.

He thought he left the lights on in this RV campground library where I arrived before sunrise to work. Library is a strong word. It’s an eight by twelve room full of paperback novels on particleboard bookshelves. 

Mr. Clark—Dick Clark, ironically—is the librarian. Everyday he hobbles his aging plump body here to check on things. I can’t place his age. Eighty? Eighteen months? He’s a cherub whose round red baby face sits atop a V-neck undershirt, its “V” scissor-deepened to make room for an enormous silver cross.

I’m trying to write a serious article on kindness. Mr. Clark wants to have a conversation about the VHS tapes in the corner. His speech is slow and stilted. “I wish someone would take a box of these to donation.” He repeats the phrase three, four, five times, his Alzheimer’s more evident this morning than in our previous visit.

I know he’s a gift come to call me back from theory to flesh-and-blood reality, come to look at me with the eyes of Christ that long for human connection. I fight the urge to get back to what I’m doing. Our whole ten-minute conversation consists of the same few phrases over and over. Then the image of God says, “I better let you get back to work,” and meanders out the door.

So I’ll tell you now what I was going to tell you about kindness. But it needed this backdrop because I can make these things overly serious and complex.

Kindness often gets thrown in with niceness, manners and etiquette. But it’s altogether something different. Those things are of earth. Kindness is of heaven.

Kindness isn’t quaint. It’s not for image maintenance or keeping feathers unruffled. Kindness is love manifest in action.

Kindness is in fact so inseparable from love that early Bible translators coined a single term: lovingkindness. “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” Love is patient. Love is kind.

Etiquette is about rules; learn them, follow them. Kindness isn’t always so obvious. It looks different toward different people at different times.

To the hard-hearted religious leaders Jesus said, “Brood of vipers.” Kindness.

To the rich young ruler, “Sell all you own.” Kindness.

To Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.” Kindness.

It’s easy to recognize Jesus’ tender words and actions as kind. These other moments can seem brash, mean almost. But we must see Jesus always speaking with the fire of pure love burning in his eyes. He did nothing simply to provoke, nothing from fear, nothing to prove anything, nothing out of woundedness. All was from an unshakable awareness of His belovedness and for the eternal good of another.

So when we say God is the kindest being in the universe we don’t mean he’s a nice guy waving off sin with a “that’s okay, sweetie.” We mean that God is pure light who, if you’ll allow, will burn off anything that keeps you from being fully alive. His kindness leads to repentance. That is, God’s goodness turns us from habits that destroy toward Spirit-filled habits that bring about joy.

I used to think it kind to pick up someone else’s slack without a word. It turns out kindness is humbly engaging that someone in a hard conversation.

I used to think it kind to stuff down negative emotions. But kindness is honestly facing emotions, taking them to God and even—especially for perfectionists prone to suppressing them—emoting to others who love you. In doing so you are humbled enough for healing to come.

And while kindness is a choice it isn’t meant to be forced. It’s fruit—fruit of the Spirit—that grows in a heart rooted in the love and acceptance of God. So the choice is one of saying Yes to the Spirit, not of strong-arming oneself to be a good boy or good girl. And that Yes becomes ever more natural for the one being formed into the image of Christ.

So let us set our inner posture toward listening to Jesus who will show us the way of kindness, be it intuitive or counterintuitive. This morning my invitation from God to kindness was to be present to Mr. Clark, whose presence was God’s kindness to me.

Brian recently released a new version of his song Be Kind to One Another. Listen below, get the single on iTunes or download a free chord chart.

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