Err on the side of kindnessAug 28, 2019
I love to help people—watching kids for a neighbor, taking a meal to a family, grabbing a cup of coffee with a friend going through a hard time. Helping someone in need is great. I love it. Well, sort of. I mean… The truth is… I love to help people who appreciate my help.
It’s easy to show kindness to those who receive it well. It’s fun. It helps them, it builds us up, it’s a win-win. Easy-peasy. It’s a little harder to show kindness when we’re not sure how it’s going to be received.
I recently had a family situation… Someone whom I love very much but who hasn’t been very lovable—or shown any interest in loving me—suddenly found himself in need, and I had the ability to help. But I was weary of putting myself “out there”, only to get hurt. A girl can only do that so many times, right? Would my help be appreciated? Would he even say “thank you”, or would he act like it was just my duty to step in? Would it bring us closer together, or would my hopeful expectations just result in more hurt feelings? And what has he even done lately to deserve my help? Where are all of his buddies now, the ones that he consistently chooses over me and my family? And here was the biggest one: Would he even want or accept my help, or would he be insulted by it, like I was taking pity on him?
I had lots of reasons not to help. I could tick them off my fingers with ease. It seemed perfectly logical to just do nothing. So for a long time, nothing is exactly what I did. Honestly, it was that last question that really stuck with me. What if I offered help and received rejection in return? What if I gave with a good heart, out of love, and it was received with anger and humiliation? What if my act of love ended with more wounds?
Family is complicated. Humanity is complicated. When dealing with people, rarely can we say, “If A and B, then C”—more often it is “If A and B, then it could be C, unless it’s D or possibly E. But sometimes it’s Q, and you don’t see it coming.” Does that make sense? In other words, we want formulas for life: If I take my kids to church every Sunday and I personally set a good example for them, they will grow up to love the Lord. If I eat right and exercise, I will be healthy and live a long life. If I am a nice person and a hard worker, I will be successful and have a good family and nothing will go wrong. If I do something nice for someone, they will appreciate it and like me more.
I mean, it just makes sense, right? Do the math! A+B = C!
But life is messy and people are complicated. Good parents have rebellious children. Health nuts get cancer. Good people have hard things happen to them. And sometimes you go out of your way to love someone, and they reject you. And it just doesn’t add up.
So what do we do?
We love them anyway.
We have been trying to ingrain this in our children lately: Err on the side of kindness. We say it regularly. When your brother asks how he did at soccer and you have the chance to tease him or encourage him, err on the side of kindness. When your sister has been ignoring you for the last hour and now wants to play with you and you really just want to reject her out of spite, err on the side of kindness.
We tell our kids to ask themselves, “What is the kindest possible thing I can do in this moment?” Sometimes our kindness is welcomed graciously, sometimes it is tossed aside or ignored, sometimes it is downright rejected and we wonder if it was a mistake. But if we are going to make a mistake in our relationships, let’s make the mistake on the side of love.
When someone bumps roughly into you on the street and they don’t apologize and you have every right to be angry, err on the side of kindness. When you’re checking out at Walmart and you have the option of smiling and saying “hello” to the cashier or catching up on Facebook, err on the side of kindness. When your spouse does that one thing that drives you crazy and you’re just certain that he did it on purpose, err on the side of kindness and give him the benefit of the doubt.
When I stepped back and looked at the situation with my family member, I realized I would rather act excessively out of love than remain inactive out of fear. I would rather show up and risk a less-than-perfect outcome than stay away and guarantee one. I would much rather err on the side of kindness.
So I showed up. I loved him. It went OK. He didn’t exactly thank me (not that I needed thanks), but he didn’t reject me either. And then something else happened: he called me. It took him six months, but he called and shared something with me. Just because. My act of love didn’t revolutionize our relationship… but it opened a door.
And I know… I KNOW… it doesn’t always go that way. I know that our kindnesses can be rebuffed. I know that we can love people who end up hurting us despite our best efforts. I know it can be painful when even a stranger rejects our kindnesses. Because there is no formula for making others love you. But we don’t love in order to be loved, friends. We love because we are already so very loved that we need to share it with others.
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God… This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… We love because he first loved us.” (I John 1:7, 10, 19 ESV) God loved us and sent His Son to us—and I think we all know how that turned out. Jesus was rejected over and over to the point of crucifixion, yet he never stopped showing kindness to those around Him. This love pours over us, filling us to overflowing, so we can spread it around. We don’t love in order to get love in return—we love because we are already perfectly loved.
And sometimes—hopefully most of the time—going out of our way to show love and kindness helps the relationship. There is no perfect formula. But my friend, if you are going to err when it comes to relationships, err on the side of kindness.
(This also means being kind to ourselves! See here for more!)
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