and I really wish I wouldn't have to say this,
but I really like human beings who have suffered.
- Emma Thompson
This will be a rare (but I am sure welcome) "brief" post today...
This weekend was all about kindness. Anyone who reads this site may be saying to themselves "duh, isn't that all you ever write about anymore?" Well, maybe…but this is one of the subjects I am most moved by these days and the one that has made the greatest impact on my heart. Simple kindness.
Saturday we were blessed by a walk in the bitter cold and a modest, but wonderful, meal at our favorite neighborhood Thai restaurant with a couple I really didn't know very well until recently. What brought about our "date" was quite simply...kindness. Theirs.
Like so many people in the world today, I too have faced moments when judgment, criticism, harsh opinions, and cold disdain swirled around me like the debris that followed poor little "Pig Pen" everywhere he went, in one of the late Charles M. Schultz "Peanuts" cartoons. There are times when any one of us might have made decisions or taken steps in our lives that may have left us asking, "What was I thinking" or left others wondering about our motives, sanity, or wisdom.
However, once those decisions are made or the steps have been taken, we all have choices on how we will move forward with grace. We can face misunderstandings head on with corrective information, change our course, “get out of Dodge”, or let God use these moments in our lives as opportunities for us to learn some vital spiritual lessons that can only be discovered in the context of discomfort. Recently I had the opportunity to choose the fourth option. As it’s turned out, this path was likely the most demanding of the choices at hand. Yet to have failed to learn what I have learned through this experience--even just this one lesson related to kindness--would be tragic to me. And even now I wouldn’t (even if I could) turn back the clock and retrace my steps, possibly taking a less challenging course, if it meant relinquishing this lesson.
A song from the Christian Science Hymnal says it with such gentle authority:
"Jesus knew the law of kindness,
Healing mind and heart of blindness..."
- Nikolaj F. S. Grundtvig
For me there is profound wisdom in this statement. In my case, what I had most needed as a Christian Science healer at this juncture in my life was not more respect, admiration and affirmation of my worth or success. What I really needed was to be healed of any blindness to the power of kindness. To be thoroughly healed of the ease with which I could dismiss the capacity kindness has for lifting and healing the broken hearted and the bruised. To not shrug off the power of even one small, simple act of human kindness. To recognize what it can do to elevate sentiments of unworthiness to the comprehension of one’s true status as a child of God, an heir of Christ, a full citizen of heaven on earth, a dweller in the secret place of the most high, a rich and fertile kingdom, the land of milk and honey...that lies waiting for cultivation within each of us. To discover that Christianity is a verb and that it looks, feels, and walks a lot like...you've got it...kindness...day in and day out.
There was no better way for me to learn these lessons than to have the warm blanket of profuse and generous kindness pulled out from under me in an instant...so that I found myself shivering in the bitter cold air of judgment, disinterest and disdain. Then, and only then, did I understand what it really meant to have one gentle, humble heart offer a sunny smile following a score of sideward glances of scorn or just averted eyes. To know the sweet warmth of a kind inquiry about our welfare extended with authentic care and sincere interest, after an evening when others had avoided the need to even say "hello".
Well, as the weeks and months went by, the lessons started to sink in with such deep suffusion that I found myself moved by the smallest things. I was no longer so impressed by well-articulated and inspired speeches. I was suddenly moved to tears by a shy hello proffered by someone who a year earlier may have barely felt like they were in my periphery rather than the focus of this piece. Broad compliments that had once made me feel loved and admired were now too rich... like an opulent feast that I could not take in for its richness. I found that I was more than satisfied with a genuine "thank you" as simple as a piece of toast and a cup of tea.
And these simple moments of breaking bread were the kind of "meals" I wanted to now be known for serving with grace myself. I no longer aspire to be the Martha Stewart of inspired living and speaking...but to become more like:
"the humble servant of the restful Mind"*
"steals in silently in on an errand of mercy."*
Our dinner companions from this weekend are so dear to us…dearer than they may ever know. They join a small but precious new family of friends whose place at our table is cherished. Many of you have a seat reserved...the toast is warm, the marmalade sweet, and the tea kettle is on.
"The poor suffering heart needs its rightful nutriment,
such as peace, patience in tribulation,
and a priceless sense
of the dear Father's loving-kindness."*
[* from the published writings of Mary Baker Eddy]