The Gift of Kindness

I’ve always been inspired by people who give more than they take. Rich Mullins and Mother Teresa are among my personal heroes, though I don’t think I’ll ever live up to the examples of their lives. But I love it when people spread positivity with a generous spirit.

I have a friend who is excellent at this. Her name is Arica, and despite a series of misfortunes that leave her in daily pain, she has chosen to spread love. Every day she chooses to have a positive outlook on life (and people) rather than giving in to bitterness. If I were in her shoes, I don’t think I would be so selfless, yet she relentlessly looks for new ways to encourage others.  Just yesterday she shared the following post on Facebook:

Hey folks it’s Tuesday. You know what that means? It’s a great day to exercise compassion and do something randomly nice for someone without expectation. No not because it is Tuesday, because you are breathing and that is another living being you can positively impact.

The day is hard for everyone, but it doesn’t have to be as hard. #everylittlegesturehelps

I was humbled. I genuinely wish I had the kind of heart that wakes up every day asking, “What can I do today to make life better for other people?” Usually I wake up thinking, “Ugh, I don’t want to work today,” or “Is there anything in the house that I could remotely call breakfast food?” But what if, like Arica, I woke up tomorrow and challenged myself to encourage one other person? How would my day and my attitude change if I spent more time looking for ways to be kind to others?

That very challenge was set long before I was ever born. Someone far wiser than I once said, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” 

It almost seems selfish to say that we benefit from giving the gift of kindness or compassion or encouragement to another person, but we do. Beyond that, though, can be a ripple effect of kindness. If your words of encouragement or your small gift of sacrifice makes the day better for one person, there’s a good chance that they will, sometimes unknowingly, pass that on to someone else. If you offer grace to the cashier at the grocery store, what are the odds that she’ll greet the next person with a smile? And that person, because he received the gift of kindness, may in turn help an elderly woman load her groceries into her car.

If I’m being completely honest, however, I have to say that sometimes it’s a lot easier being kind to strangers than it is to those closest to me. Usually, strangers haven’t done anything to offend me. Usually, they haven’t put their own interests ahead of mine and left me wanting to do the same.

Does that hit a nerve? It does with me.

It’s easier to help a stock boy pick up boxes of cereal that fell off the shelf than it is to pick up the dirty socks that my husband dropped on the floor. It’s easier to offer a kind word to a waitress than it is to be generous toward my family when they are grumpy or in a bad mood. It’s hard to take out the trash instead of complaining about how full it is. In those moments, valuing others above yourself sometimes seems impossible. I’d rather look to my own interests than the interests of those I claim to love the most.

And that is when we most need to give the gift of kindness. That doesn’t mean we turn ourselves into doormats, it just means we consider the other person and their needs ahead of our emotions or our wants. And if we strive to meet those needs we show real love, which is the greatest gift we can give to anyone, including ourselves.

Here are some practical ways you can give the gift of kindness:

  • Be generous toward a cashier or waitress. If they're slow to take your order, struggling to know which buttons to push, forgetful, harried... chances are they're having a bad day. Don't let their bad day make yours bad too. Instead, be courteous, kind and considerate, reassuring them that you're not angry and it's okay. You'll be surprised what a change that can make.
  • Leave a little present for your mailman. They often go unnoticed and unappreciated while they perform an important task every day, usually in unpleasant conditions. Remind them that they aren't unseen.
  • The next time you're tempted to complain to your spouse/kid about a task left undone, do it for them. Don't even tell them you did it, just make the sacrifice of love. Rather than changing their attitude, change yours.
  • Spend a few minutes chatting with an elderly person in the grocery store. Many times the elderly are lonely and just want someone to listen to them.
  • Call your parents. They like to hear from you.
  • Pick up a "Thinking of You" card and mail it to your neighbor. They'll be surprised by the gesture.
do you have a favorite way to give the gift of kindness? share it in the comments below.

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