This blog post is adapted from Inspired by the Holy Spirit: Four Habits for Faithful Living by Christina Hergenrader.
For the past few years, a popular T-shirt slogan has been, “Be kind!” There are variations of the message, such as “Kindness matters!” and “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” This slogan is not only on T-shirts, but it’s also on backpacks, water bottles, and bumper stickers. Kindness is suddenly everywhere.
And yet, it doesn’t seem like there is kindness in our schools, neighborhoods, or churches. Kindness most certainly does matter, but many times it also feels extinct. As a mom and a teacher, I see the absence of this most often in how we parent. Let me say that more directly: our generation is teaching the next how to be mean and self-righteous.
It’s time to give the next generation a new example—one of radical, deep, spiritual kindness. It’s time to model the spiritual fruit of kindness we have through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Bombarded with Safety
Here’s the problem we’re facing: our generation has received the message that we have to keep our kids safe at all times. A generation of kids is being raised by parents who worship them and the idea of keeping them safe. Instead of trusting God to take care of these kids, we are taking all the responsibility. And we so often get it wrong.
We’ve lost the kindness. I’m not talking about T-shirt-slogan kindness; I mean the kind that comes from the Holy Spirit and is swathed in divine humbleness, gentleness, and patience. I’m talking about kindness that could change the world. I’m talking about the kindness that Peter describes in 2 Peter 1 when he tells about the exponential effect that goodness and love have in the world.
First, let’s open our eyes to what this kindness really looks like.
We might start by easing up on protecting. Our kids are learning to be scared, and they will continue to learn that lesson if we keep trying to control their environment. When we teach children that the world is full of scary people, we are setting up a volatile relationship between them and the rest of society.
Safety in Turkey Sandwiches
Recently, my daughters and I were at a meeting for a volunteer group with which we serve. The mom hosting the meeting prepared turkey sandwiches and arranged them on a plate in the kitchen. Another mom worried that the turkey had sat out for over an hour while we held our meeting. She warned her girls to stay away from the sandwiches, and she mentioned to the mom that it was not safe for us to eat the lunch meat.
No one ate the sandwiches. Ouch.
I wanted to hug this woman, who was trying to be a good host. On the way home, I talked to my girls about what had happened. We discussed how so much about the meeting had been about how to serve our community. And yet, none of us had shown real kindness to the hostess. Being safe had trumped raw, awkward, beautiful kindness.
My daughters admitted that the value they are taught most often is to be safe. We talked about how it is certainly a mom’s responsibility to keep her children safe, but it is also so much more.
Our generation should show others how to live out the type of kindness that Jesus showed, to advocate for the truly marginalized, to listen with an open heart and mind, and to love those who need it the most. Kids cannot learn to do that if they are constantly afraid of the world. Their fear wins out over faith in such an ugly way.
Life in our corner of the suburbs is ruled by moms who call themselves “mama bears” and pride themselves on policing everything that involves their children. Examples sound like this:
“So, I emailed the principal and explained how the teacher is shaming my child when he reprimands her for being tardy in front of the whole class.”
“When I heard that the gym teacher yelled at my child, I was at the school before the end of the day, informing her that she has no right to treat my baby like that.”
“I stayed after practice and let the coach have it for making our kids stand out there in the rain.”
The spiritual fruit of kindness is the opposite of this kind of self-righteousness. It is humbleness. It is sacrifice. It’s not teaching others to repay yelling with yelling. It’s the golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated. It’s the words of Leviticus 19:18 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”) that Jesus referenced in Matthew 7:12 (“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them”) and Luke 6:31 (“And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them”).
But most of all, kindness is grace.
Because here is the truth: we are all so flawed. Teachers lose their tempers. Coaches get frustrated with the less talented kids. The scout leader has a migraine and zero patience. That one mom simply forgot to invite your kid to the movie night. Lifeguards don’t see it when the pool bully dunks your daughter. Whatever the circumstances, it’s all sin, and it’s in all of us.
You can’t control how these other people react, but there is something you can do. Every single person in your path can receive your grace.
Reacting with Grace
The teacher who wrongly accused your kid of talking during the math test? Just skip the angry voice mail. Your kid probably was talking at the wrong time, and a gentle discussion at home can fill in the blanks.
The losing basketball coach who doesn’t do the drills you suggest? Instead of holding him after practice to tell him how to do his job, sit in the stands and cheer for every player on your daughter’s team.
The kid who called your daughter a four-letter word at recess? Confronting her mom is probably not going to change much. In fact, you will be the punch line of that mom’s joke. Four-letter words aren’t a big deal in their house.
And the woman who is serving cheese with a bit of mold on the corner? She doesn’t know, and she is just doing her best. Scrape off the moldy bit and eat the cheese. You won’t die. More importantly, you will have taught the next generation a little about being a gracious guest, about the resilience of the immune system, and—most important—about being kind. You will have shown grace instead of more self-righteousness. Modeling this kindness to others changes them, and that can transform our whole culture.
Kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit
True kindness comes from the Holy Spirit; it’s something for which we are all hungry for more. We need this connection with one another. We need the flow of love that comes from real humility, modesty, and meekness.
When the world sees this fruit of the Spirit, it’s inspiring. It really is. It reminds you of how Jesus lived. It shows the world something so different—the incredible grace of our Father.
It starts with each of us. Let’s change the world by showing it how true, humble kindness looks. Even though this softheartedness begins at home, it’s lived out in our communities.
The fruit of the Spirit is a response to the grace we receive from Christ’s work for us and a gift that we received when we were baptized. Despite our sins, God loves each one of us so much. He takes perfect care of you, me, and all the children.
Let this inspired kindness flow to others so they see the love of our Father.
This post is adapted from Inspired by the Holy Spirit: Four Habits for Faithful Living copyright © 2021 Christina Hergenrader. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Work through 28 days of spiritual transformation alongside Christina Hergenrader, letting the Holy Spirit work through you to bring you closer to God and His kindness.