Eavesdropping for Kindness and Encouragement

One of my favorite quotes on kindness is pretty simple: “Be kind.  You never know what someone’s going through.”  In their 1984 book Encouragement: The Key to Caring, Dr. Larry Crabb and Dr. Dan Allender write about how much of our interaction with others happens between layers we put on to hide our true selves, rather than between the deepest parts of our selves.  We intentionally don’t let others know what we’re going through.  Although the above quote probably wasn’t common when the book was written in 1984, the authors definitely had the idea in mind when they wrote about how we might imagine eavesdropping on the thoughts of others as we arrive at church on Sunday morning.  Such imagining might help us realize how much people encouragement and kindness everyone really needs.  They wrote that we might hear thoughts like these:

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

“Oh, no! There’s Fred pulling up in his car. If he sees me, he’ll ask me for that committee report I haven’t done yet. I’d better move inside quickly and get seated.”
“I wish my husband weren’t away on that business trip. It’s really uncomfortable coming to church without him. Well, I’ll just sit in the back and leave as soon as the service is over.”
“I sure hope the preaching is better than it’s been the last few weeks.”
“This should be a really good day. No work that needs to be done. I like our church and the football game is on TV at 3 this afternoon.  That gives me time to take the family out to dinner and still be home for the kickoff. I really like being a Christian.”
“I wonder if I should keep coming to this church. I really haven’t made any friends and the sermons don’t do much for me. Well I’ll keep praying about it and see how it goes today”
“Look at that happy young family. It really hurts when I realize my kids are grown, gone, unsaved, and mixed-up. Boy, I wish I could have a few years back. Well I can’t start crying now. Cmon, smile-here comes Nancy to say hello.”
“People think of me as a pretty spiritually together person. I’ll make a point to interact graciously and to respond in a biblical way to whatever happens.”[1]

While we can’t (and shouldn’t) eavesdrop on thoughts, imagining it reminds us that we really don’t know what’s going on behind other people’s layers, and they don’t usually know what’s behind ours.

Therefore, “Be kind.  You never know what someone’s going through.”

[1] Crabb, Larry and Dan Allender.  Encouragement: The Key to Caring (1984).  P. 95-96.

Presents of Presence: A Holiday Quint of Quotes

Dear fellow travelers,

With mere days remaining until Christmas, here is a Quint of Quotes, five sayings for the holidays!

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity” – Simone Weil

“The highest form of knowledge is empathy, for it requires us to suspend our egos and live in another’s world” – Plato

“When given the choice between being right or being kind choose kind.” – from the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Paul, in Ephesians 4:32

“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – guardian angel Clarence Oddbody, in It’s a Wonderful Life

Merry Christmas to all my readers – first timers, occasional passersby, and a handful of regulars!

Joseph’s Example of Kindness

November 13 is World Kindness Day, which was established in 1998 by the World Kindness Movement.  The idea and importance of kindness is of course, much older, as well as the struggle to find real kindness.

The very first book of the Bible, Genesis, has an interesting tale of kindness in the story of Joseph, son of Jacob.  His is a long and complicated story, but in Genesis chapter 40 we find him jailed on false charges.  In prison with him were two men – a baker and cupbearer – who had also been imprisoned by Pharaoh.  Joseph had been wronged by an unjust ruler, and the other two “committed an offense.”  All three probably felt resentment toward their government because of what might have been arbitrary treatment.

I think underappreciated verses in the story are Genesis 40:6-7, which read:  “When Joseph came to [the baker and cupbearer] in the morning, he saw that they were troubled.  So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces downcast today?’” (emphasis mine)

Note the word “today”.  These were men in prison.  You’d expect that “downcast” is their default mode, their everyday mood, but Joseph noticed something different about this day.  Either Joseph: 1) made the prison a place where people aren’t downcast all the time, and/or 2) noticed and cared about when people are more downcast than usual.  He wanted to help the situation right in front of him, even though he had his own share of problems.  I thought about this when watching the movie Shawshank Redemption recently and how Andy Dufresne sought to give others hope, especially in the scene involving the record player.

From this act of kindness, stemming from attention to the world around him and being in tune with God’s character of compassion, Joseph learned about the dreams of these other prisoners, which opened the door to his freedom, and later many other blessings.

Joseph was not seeking escape or success or revenge and was therefore focused on the needs of others.  Even before his time in prison, Joseph had suffered many wrongs, but he was able to still look outward and keep his eyes open for opportunity to express God’s love to those who need it.  God did not owe him any blessing, but Joseph surely was blessed, and later all of Israel shared in it.

In Joseph, we have an example of God’s love in action.  Today, many are stressed and downcast and need Jesus, the great comforter.  Be kind, not because it’s World Kindness Day, but because “Love is patient and kind” (1 Cor 13:4a).  Seek to bless others and you may find escape for your own downcast spirit.