When my wife asked my son where his favorite sweatshirt was, his eyes went heavenward as he traced his steps over the last couple of days. After a minute, he came to the realization that he had absentmindedly left it in a heap in the sand at a playground a day after a major rainstorm. At that point, we considered it a lost cause, as it most likely was damp and moldy, but we could also tell how much the sweatshirt meant to him, so I volunteered to take him back. Upon arriving, we discovered the sweatshirt not where he had left it, but instead hung on a railing, underneath an awning, completely dry. Thanks to a random stranger, my son had his sweatshirt back in pristine condition.
A week later, the day after a fireworks display, I was running around the town lake when I spotted a child’s Abercrombie zipper jacket in a heap down on the river bank. After a moment of quick reflection, I flashed back to how someone had hung up my son’s sweatshirt. So, I ventured down to get this one, found a visible post by the road, and hung it there so the owner would hopefully find it. A day later, it was gone, most likely with the original owner.
Kindness can have a ripple effect, where one good deed gets passed on through a series of people. The “pay it forward” idea came into vogue a few years ago, where people would commit random acts of kindness without provocation, in the hopes that the receiver would find someone else on which to pass that kindness. So, we now read stories of fast food drive-thru lines where each person pays off the debt of the person behind them (with some streaks stretching up to 167 cars and beyond). Although pay it forward mentality is a great start, too often we do something for someone else with the expectation that they must do something for someone else, hence, the string of drive-thru payments. The real kindness in this scenario is that first person who pays for someone else, as they’ve paid double. I’ve read related stories where the cashier, after telling customers that their meal was paid for, then sits in expectation that these customers will now pay for the person behind them. (Wary be the person who breaks the chain.) So, although the sentiment is nice, the grumbling of the person who now must pay for the family of four behind them when all they wanted was a drink kind of breaks the intention of the process.
Although kindness begets kindness, the most effective approach is altruistic kindness (kindness for the sake of being kind) where there is a kindness effect without expectation of reprisal, paying it forward, or even of thanks. I never met the person who hung up my son’s sweatshirt, but his or her impact was profound. Kindness is strong enough on its own to be an influence. Expected thanks and reciprocation are nice, but they diminish the effect that pure kindness has.
Years ago, I gave a gift to someone, and when he didn’t react the way I wanted him to, I became frustrated and disappointed. However, I realized that the issue was not with the receiver, but with the giver. Instead of making someone’s day better, I had centered it around myself and was looking to make myself feel good about having made someone’s day better. What I should have done is given the gift without expectation, because kindness speaks for itself.
Recently, Coca-Cola developed a series of commercials and programs where the idea is that human kindness and decency is infectious: individuals exposed to kindness tend to improve their outlook on life, then finding moments of kindness to pass on to others without an expectation of reprisal or thanks. In the videos, people show kindness to strangers with no need of thanks or reciprocation. The reward is in the giving, thus making the world a kinder place. Kindness is so powerful that the author of Proverbs knew how much of an impact it can have: “Do not let kindness and mercy leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart” (3.3 NASB). As Christians, we can make the world better through kindness that speaks for itself: we do not need to speak for it. Our message of Christ’s love is in our actions, not in our tongues.
Christ’s example of unfailing, unreturnable, indescribable love on the cross is the ultimate model of kindness without provocation or expectation. Hence, when others hear of His selfless sacrifice, they have trouble coming to terms with His actions as this act of kindness is that powerful. This week, be kind for the sake of being kind. Don’t worry about your impact, and don’t expect thanks. And don’t pick one act of kindness and be done; open the floodgates of the kindness you have to offer. Know that your kindness speaks for itself, and its silent words are more effective than anything you might have to say. Amen.