It had been an all-around bad day. Tired and discouraged, a five-dollar coffee seemed worth the splurge just to add a little sweetness that would redeem a few seconds of my day. When I pulled up to the drive-thru window, the girl handed me my coffee. “The lady ahead of you paid yours. She said have a great day.” I made a quick examination of the car driving away. It wasn’t familiar to me.
I can’t remember what had spoiled my morning that day, but I definitely remember the moment that made it better: a drop of kindness from an unknown stranger who couldn’t have had any idea of how much I craved it right then. Of course, God knew it, and I have no doubt He prompted that gracious lady to do what she did. It felt distinctly like a warm hug reaching down to me from God’s arms.
It reminds me of this story told by Pastor Greg Laurie:
I heard the story of a little boy who was frightened one night during a big thunderstorm. Terrified, he called out from his room, "Daddy, I'm scared!"
His father, not wanting to get out of bed, called back, "Don't worry, Son. God loves you and will take care of you."
There was a moment of silence. The little boy said, "I know God loves me, but right now, I need somebody with skin on."
He goes on to describe how Jesus became that someone with skin on, a God who can certainly take care of us in a metaphysical sense, but who also reaches out and touches us in a very real and human way. And because Jesus came and redeemed the human race, it is possible for His redeemed ones to act like He did, to love with His love in their own skin.
However, often we act very differently from achieving that potential, even in the instances where it should be easiest for us to be kind and with those we care most about. Psychologist John Gottman began gathering research in 1985 on what helps couples stay together in stable relationships. In one study in 1990, he noted the importance of how one might respond to a simple, mundane interaction such as saying, “Look at that beautiful bird outside!”
The remark is defined as a plea for emotional connection. The person to whom the comment was made could react in one of these several ways: be annoyed by what seemed a silly interruption, dismiss it or half-heartedly acknowledge it, or completely turn toward involvement in sharing the experience. Couples who actively “turned toward” each other 87% of the time were still married after six years, while those who turned away 67% of the time had divorced.
Kindness, Gottman decided, is the single greatest point in deciding the health of any relationship. It is coupled with generosity because it requires the ability to seek actively to practice kindness even when it is difficult, inconvenient, or unrewarded. Like a muscle, kindness must be given frequent exercise to grow. It must exist on a day-to-day basis in unnoticeable but intentional decisions. It must be kept present even in situations where it is not recognized, like with the unknown lady in the strange car who bought my coffee.
Of course, kindness carries weight not just with married couples. It is not too hard to spot unkindness anywhere we look, even when we miss it in ourselves. Just the other day, I heard a woman stand in front of her child and point her out as an advertisement as to why she should have used more birth control. I wondered what made her think it was OK for her daughter to hear her say that. Perhaps, we become so accustomed to harshness in the world that we convince ourselves it has no significance anymore.
But kindness will always matter. We are, in fact, most capable of answering the need when we realize its deficit in ourselves. It may take self-discipline, but it is easy to find a recipient of kindness and quick to accomplish. Every one of us who belongs to Christ can be that “somebody with skin on” and show kindness to those around us.