“Put on then… compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience, forbearing one another and… forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you… And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
Colossians 3:12-13 (RSV)
We’ve recently discovered Netflix’s series The Kindness Diaries at our house. It’s an interesting chronicle of Leon Logothetis, a man who chucked a lucrative financial career in London and set out to cure his chronic depression by seeking out the goodness of humanity. He has, for a decade, traveled in many countries with no money, living off the kindness of strangers, and documenting his experiences. At times, he is so moved by certain people he meets that he gives back to them more than his usual hugs and thank yous. He has given away (according to the internet) quite a bit of his net worth: a trip to Israel for one couple, funds to feed immigrants for a year at a weekly social gathering in Canada, and presumably many other blessings (we’ve only watched two episodes so far).
This has me thinking about kindness. The Hebrew word most often used in the Old Testament for kindness is “hesed”, an attribute of God’s character (see Psalm 18:50, Isaiah 54:8, and Jeremiah 9:24). In the New Testament, primarily in St Paul’s writings (see Romans 11:22, Galatians 5:22, Ephesians 2:7), it is the Greek word “chrestotes”. Both words are very rich in meaning: they both imply love, mercy, faithfulness, goodness.
In the Netflix series, Leon receives kindness from lots of folks: meals, gas, lodging, directions, help getting out of snowdrifts, etcetera. But the focus of the series is really on the hidden goodness of the unsung heroes he encounters along his way; people who give unselfishly and sacrificially to others, and who share themselves without expecting anything in return.
It’s really a healthy antidote to the poison of the current social and political situation in our country these days. Strife, conflict, rivalries abound, generated by our collective selfishness and pride. We all desire to counter our rival’s argument; we push to get our point across so as to change minds and win support.
But all the while, we may be ignoring the core humanity of our rival, a human being made in God’s image, no matter how obscured that image is to us at the moment. For this person, Jesus Christ came to earth; for this person, He was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became Man; for this person, He was crucified, died, and was buried. God’s kindness reached to the lowest depths of sin and degradation, and yet I find it hard sometimes to be charitable toward someone who disagrees with my views!
In the Scripture above, St Paul admonishes us to “put on” the qualities of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness and patience. How do we do that? Well, what’s clear is that these qualities originate not in my natural self, but rather in the nature of God himself. The manifestation of these godlike qualities is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within me (Galatians 5:22 again); that abiding participation in the love of God, which “binds everything together in perfect harmony”. Sin is the divider: if you win, I lose. Love is the uniter: we’re all beloved children of God, and we can seek common ground.
If I truly desire for God to manifest Himself through me, self must get out of the way. What does it matter if I lose a particular argument, or don’t get credit for something, or don’t have a chance to have my say, especially if I am failing to manifest the generous kindness that I myself have received? The focus of my life has got to change: I must practice not being so inward, so self – absorbed. Instead, I must focus on loving and serving God by loving and serving others whom I encounter along my way.
Like Leon in The Kindness Diaries, I can practice being on the lookout for those people to whom I can give myself: my undivided attention, my respect, and my time. I can ask for the grace to truly see them, and then act for the welfare of another in a spirit of self forgetfulness.