Chapter 7 - The Rewards of Kindness

God is a God of kindness, so it is fitting that we, as his people, display kindness to others as well. When God proclaims his name to Moses, it is "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness...". When Micah tells the people of Judah what God requires, it is that they "do justice", and "love kindness" and "walk humbly" with him. And when the Pharisees object to Jesus' lifestyle, he says to them: "Go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'"

Kindness is crucial!

As Carolyn Mahaney says, I think that most of the time it is my family, as the people closest to me, who suffer most from my lack of kindness. I could relate to what she said at the beginning of the chapter about being shocked at the level of hostility I've felt and manifested towards my own family members (p.118)! I thought Carolyn's list of hindrances to kindness (anger, bitterness, judging) were very insightful - I think all 3 have these are issues that I need to work on! I also thought it was great to have some concrete ideas of how to be kind to our husbands and children - hey, if anything I could have done with a few more of these!

So I was on board at page 128 when we were reminded that "this reputation for goodness begins at home". I was disappointed, though, that the specific suggestions in this chapter stopped there. The text in 1 Tim 5 that Carolyn cross-references is a reminder that the widow who has "a reputation for good works" is one who "has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work". (The word translated as "kind" in Titus 2 is the same as the word for every "good" work in 1 Tim 5). The circles of 1 Tim 5:9 seem to radiate outward from the children to the house-guests to the saints and the afflicted; it's about "every good work".

Nor does kindness beyond the family always need to be at the expense of kindness within the family. There are limits, of course, on how much my kindness can extend beyond the front gate without becoming neglect of my children and a hindrance to my husband, but I also suspect I am being kinder to my kids if I can teach them how to live out God-fearing lives where they are learning how to love the 'widow and orphan', to 'extend their hands to the poor', and to welcome the lonely into the family home. In her book, Hidden Art, Edith Schaeffer writes:
Often one is asked, "How does one get children to have compassion and love for others?" One important way is by demonstrating love and compassion in action, not just talking about it. I do not mean organisational action but human care, in taking time, thought, energy, imagination, and creativity to fulfil some total stranger's need. Nothing can be be given in a 'course of study' which can substitute for the day to day observation on the part of the children in the home of a mother or father who truly treat human beings as human, and not machines. It is of course costly, in time and energy. "What a waste if time!" some might remark. But the 'waste' is what brings forth the most amazing results, many of which are hidden from us in this life, results in others living in and sharing the home; and results in the unknown strangers too.
So, instead of discussing the (very helpful!) ideas in this chapter for showing kindness within the family, I thought we might brainstorm some small ways to show kindness to others beyond the family (even when you are at the stage of life where you have young kids with you at home). Here are a few easy and obvious ideas for starters:

- Invite people into your house - particularly (in the light of what Jesus says in Luke 14) those who can't invite you back.
- Make a meal for someone who needs it. You need to cook for your family anyway, why not add a little extra? You can even involve your kids in dropping it off to the person, and explain to them why you are doing it.
- Mind someone else's kids - again, especially the single mum who can't easily 'pay you back'.
- Visit an elderly or house-bound person with your kids. As well as being a blessing to the older person (the company of little kids can be delightful, on a good day!!) it can also be a great lesson for the kids in how to talk to people from another generation, how to be polite and self -controlled etc... (Use some discretion here, though - don't make your elderly neighbours the victims of an overly-ambitious kindness-training regime for your kids!).

Other ideas? I'd love to hear what works for you...