Cultivating Character // Kindness

Cultivating Character // Kindness

I was doing a bit of grocery shopping at the 99 Cent Store a few weeks ago* and, as often happens these days, I got caught up in a conversation with the cashier about the status of my growing belly. Not one to miss out on an opportunity to discuss my current favorite subject (baby fever is a very real thing!), I became so wrapped up in answering her questions about my baby-to-be that I inadvertently forgot to swipe my credit card to complete my transaction. When the cashier politely reminded me that I still needed to pay for my purchases, the young woman behind me in line jumped in and said she would like to pay for my items. My total bill was less than ten dollars (it was the 99 Cent Store, after all), but I was completely blown away by the woman’s generous offer: I did not know this woman, and have no idea why she’d decided to make me the recipient of her kindness. Though I quickly dismissed her offer, the thoughtfulness of her gesture—and her sweet departing words to me to take care of myself and my baby—have stuck with me.

A "just because" bouquet of my favorite flowers from my husband. . . a beautiful gesture of kindness.
A “just because” bouquet of flowers from my husband. . . a beautiful gesture of kindness.

Kindness is defined on Wikipedia as “a behavior marked by ethical characteristics, a pleasant disposition, and concern for others.” In my experience, kindness is one of the easiest character traits to identify and cultivate, and yet it is often overlooked. We all know how to be kind to others, but in going about our daily lives, we simply forget to do so. In fact, kindness has become so neglected in our culture that one woman’s simple gesture of offering to pay for ten dollars’ worth of canned goods became the highlight of my entire month!

Looking back over my life, a number of similar acts of kindness stand out to me: the neighbor who kept a stash of jelly beans to share with me when I stopped by his house as a child; the stranger who gifted my brother and me the stuffed animals of our choice at a Knott’s Berry Farm gift shop one Christmas season when I was a pre-teen; the brand-new friend who offered to sit with and support me through lunches when I was in the throes of my eating disorder. . . . These acts were small, but their impact was momentous. I am thankful to have been the recipient of such kindness, and I want to be a person who naturally and consistently demonstrates a similar level of kindness and generosity to those around me.

The Bible study I am a part of is currently studying the Biblical book or Ruth. This short book of the Bible is rife with examples of kindness: first, the young (and widowed) Ruth demonstrates kindness to her mother-in-law, Naomi, when she agrees to leave her homeland and her family to support the older woman. Later, a wealthy landowner named Boaz shows kindness to Ruth by allowing her to glean from his fields, even going so far as to instruct his employees to make sure that Ruth goes home each day with an extra measure of grain. The ultimate act of kindness is seen when Boaz agrees to marry Ruth so that she can produce children who will carry on her dead husband’s name and lineage. Boaz’s sacrificial act is a beautiful one that foreshadows the ultimate act of redemption and sacrifice that Christ would demonstrate many generations later.

Hebrews 13:2

Though I won’t claim to have the capacity for kindness as Jesus—or even Ruth or Boaz—I know that God has given me a heart to help and serve others, and to treat them with kindness whenever the opportunity arises. Unfortunately, I tend to dismiss the still, small voice inside that encourages me to demonstrate kindness to those around me. I allow my own needs and insecurities to take precedence, and I overlook the opportunities to show kindness (big and small) to the family, friends, coworkers, students, and even strangers I encounter every day. The only way to overcome my self-centeredness and exhibit an attitude of habitual kindness is simply to become aware of—and then act on—the opportunities for kindness as they present themselves. It might be something as simple as allowing somebody to go ahead of me in line at the grocery store, or complimenting a stranger who looks like they are having a hard day. It might be something bigger, like devoting the day to helping a friend move or utilizing part of my personal “fun money” to buy a gift for my husband. Like all habits, I believe that this is one that will build upon itself. As I grow accustomed to showing small kindnesses on a regular basis, the larger opportunities for kindness will surely become evident, and it will become instinctual for me to act upon them.

This Christmas season—and beyond—I want to become someone who is known for her kindness. I want to move beyond myself and take every opportunity to show God’s love to everyone around me. Will you join me? I’d love to hear your stories of how you have either given or received kindness recently. Let’s inspire each other to be kind!

+          +          +          +          +

*Yes, I’ll admit. . . it’s kind of weird that I get groceries at the 99 Cent Store. To maximize our grocery budget, I spread my shopping among several stores (I’m sure this will change once the baby comes) and I’ve found that the 99 Cent Store has the best deals on canned and other dry goods. It’s not my favorite place to shop, but I’ll do anything for a good deal!