Try a Little Kindness
“Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; for your goodness sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” Psalm 25: 6-10
We cross paths with different people every day. I would guess even the loneliest hermits in our day still get those dinner-time phone calls, wanting to clean their carpets. Or they have a mail carrier still passing by their residence, coupons in hand, addressed for “occupant.” Perhaps that makes kindness even more important in this day than in previous eras: the illusion that we don't need anyone, that we can “make it on our own,” needs to be punctured.
I was in the grocery store this week; it was one of those days when insult and injury were my traveling companions. I spilled my coffee in the aisle of the store, and as I pulled on the conveniently-placed paper towels to clean it up, the entire roll of paper towels came down on my head, and skidded down along the hot dog case. I am usually pretty clever in figuring out how to replace such things, but when I could not get the towel roll back on, a younger man (note – not just a young man) helped me clip the roll in, and re-roll the paper towels. In my embarrassment, I was so happy to thank him!
Kindness is an important part of our culture. Every person has value, even me that day. Perhaps today when it seems like we are simply a number or a consumer commodity, out there on our own, kindness becomes even more important. It nurtures our humility. It reminds us that we all depend on others, from birth to death. It complements the gratitude to God that says: I am truly blessed; my life could easily, statistically, have been otherwise.
Belonging to this church, or any Church, we hope that together we are brought out of an exclusively self-centered world view. And gratitude, in all its forms, makes a profound difference on our outlook in life. When Jim Thorpe was awarded a decathlon gold medal at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, King Gustav V of Sweden told him, “You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
Thorpe said in response, “Thanks, King.”
Somewhat pithy, but he needed to say it. And that may be all it takes. Social convention, at all levels of society, is important. Expressing gratitude is one of those cornerstones.
Recognizing that all the folks we meet, day by day, are God's children and benefactors of Christ's sacrificial love, makes kindness and expressing gratitude easier, when it seems like the whole world only wants to take something or sell us something.
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell tells a story about riding the elevator down to the garage of the State Department building, away from his beautiful office – and his security agents –
and chatting with the immigrants and minorities making minimum wage working in the garage.
After trying to help him “get back home,” these workers finally talked with him, and he asked them a question he'd had about their job. In the small garage space, they had to stack cars one behind another. “When the cars come in every morning,” he asked, “how do you decide whose car is the first to get out, and whose ends up stuck second or third back?”
They gave each other knowing looks and little smiles. “Mr. Secretary,” one of them said, “it goes like this: When you drive in, if you lower the window, look out, smile, or know our name, you're number one to get out. But if you look straight ahead, don't show you see us or that we are doing something for you, well... you are likely to be one of the last to get out.”
Kindness comes back to us, whether we see it or not.
As we travel well-worn paths or blaze exciting new trails, let's remember to treat the people we meet with respect, kindness, and gratitude. It is not about their behavior. It is about who we are, and the spirit we carry with us on our travels.
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