Most, if not all of my friendships, are born from a mutual appreciation of the other person’s kindness. When I want to make a new friend, I have a tendency to go overboard with intentional acts or words of kindness toward her, whether by sending an encouraging text, giving random gifts (who doesn’t love Sonic happy hour?!), sharing of my time and resources, and generally trying to be a person that she’ll want to spend time with and show kindness to in return. Sometimes, however, that mission not only fails but backfires terribly. It’s tempting to think in those situations that I did something wrong. (Maybe I did! Truly!) It’s also tempting to rear back and recoil in hurt, withdrawing all efforts to be kind, and instead focus on helping her to see all the ways in which her rejection broke my heart. Sometimes, its even a thought that maybe we could lash out in return and see if that fixes anything. *insert eye roll here!* As though that would do any good.
I have a suggestion.
What if we chose kindness while intentionally removing the expectation for the recipient to also be kind in return?
What if we decided not to give up so easily?
What if we realized that the pressure of returning kindness for kindness, is sometimes just too much for a person who has been so deeply wounded? What if we made ourselves aware that they don’t even know how to function on that level?
What if they outwardly reject your kindness based on the fact that they don’t even know how to recognize genuine kindness, much less trust it?
What if kindness literally terrifies them, because they have never been shown genuine kindness AND been allowed to trust it, because everyone who has been kind in the past has turned traitor when the truth came out or rumors spread or their actions were disapproved?
What if the wounded ones feel that they can’t even trust JESUS because the church disassociated from them, lest their affairs or substance abuse tarnished the reputation of their pretty building?
Kindness is never a threat from the viewpoint of the giver, but the expectation to function in that capacity can be too much for a person who feels ashamed of themselves or their past. A wounded person will often isolate herself, perhaps because she fears that any intimate knowledge that may result from sharing friendship may in fact be the factor that cuts off the love she so desperately needs. What if she’s afraid to accept your friendship, because in doing so she may be tempted to divulge personal information that could mean the end of the kindness she has begun to thrive under?
To choose intentional kindness without seeking personal gain is the definition of Jesus-style love. As Jesus followers, the fuel to our kindness toward others should not be the response we gain in return, but the sheer fact that kindness was the modus operandi of JESUS HIMSELF. He didn’t go around spouting Scripture verses all the time, or telling people that He was (is) literally God in the flesh. His entire ministry was based on SHOWING love, on DOING love, on literally BEING love.
Jesus was infinitely kind to people during His time on earth. He never expected the recipient to return it. He poured out love and kindness in such an extravagant way that His followers fought over who got to stand next to Him. After all, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. He did not disassociate Himself from the broken, but purposely connected Himself with the lost – He spent His time with the souls some would consider to be the worst of the worst.
What would you do if a person you love threw you the worst truth about themselves they could possibly muster? How would you respond? Sometimes a scared person will do this just to cut to the chase to try to end the relationship early on, before they feel too far invested emotionally for it to hurt. But what if we took that truth, ugly as it may be, caught it mid-air, wrapped it up in love, and literally set it behind ourselves, out of sight out of mind? What if we didn’t even give a moment’s hesitation at the news of their affair, or their unwed pregnancy, or their porn addiction, or their dependency on prescription pain killers? What would happen if instead, we put it behind us and looked deep into that person’s eyes and said “You are loved, regardless.” This is NOT the same as encouraging them to continue that behavior, but the more we allow them to share and open up and trust and love them anyway, the more likely that they will encounter Jesus and allow Him to come and heal. What if there was literally nothing they could say or do or ‘fess up to, that would separate them from our love – which is Jesus’ love?
Because you know what? That’s exactly how Scripture tells us that Jesus loves US. Romans 8:31-39 explicitly lists everything we might expect to be the final straw, but that actually have no power to remove us from God’s passionate love. If God is FOR us, who can be against us? If God is FOR THEM (your hurting person), then who are WE to be against them? Which one of us is left standing to condemn the next person for making a “worse” mistake than we already did? None of us should be left standing – because forgiveness of that magnitude should have us on our knees, on our faces before Jesus in gratitude. You guys – we were literally sentenced to death, and Jesus intervened. Our slate is wiped clean. We have absolutely NO GROUNDS WHATSOEVER to reject a person based on their history – past or current – or on what they will do in the future. Instead we love without ever stopping. Jesus suffered horrendous torture for us, centuries before our time – knowing full well that some would wait their entire lives before choosing Him, and that some would reject Him entirely, for eternity.
You know what else? For some people, this is the ONLY way she will ever encounter Jesus and understand even an inkling of how much He loves her. The whole reason to even give her the time of day when she continually rejects you is because Jesus would leave the 99 to rescue the one. And as His hands and feet on this earth, that challenge falls to us, so that they will know the hope of being loved and accepted by Jesus.
So, again, what if we choose kindness while simultaneously removing the unspoken expectation for the recipient to return it? What if we removed the expectation of friendship, of mutual trust, of exchanged gifts, or coffee dates, of even a smile or a wave of acknowledgement in public, and we just chose to lavish generous love on them anyway? What if we send that friend gorgeous gifts every day for a month and she even says thank you, but then she in turn denies your very existence in her life when asked if she knows you? It’s hard! It’s REALLY hard!! Our tendency as humans is to want the security of being assured that we are liked in return. We give in order to get; we go all out for them and then are offended when they are not all-in for us. But that’s not Jesus’ way. His way is to give, give, give. He never depended on another human to fill His cup so that He could keep giving. He continually went back to His Father for affirmation, and continued to pour Himself out. The same also needs to be our source of affirmation if we truly desire to dig in our heels for that ONE person whom you know needs to be shown unconditional kindness in the biggest way in order for their heart to heal.
If we are going to have a prayer of success in reaching that person, it’s going to take every ounce of resolve to continue when they slap you in the face or backstab you and basically buck you harder than any bronco, just to test your determination to love them regardless. It’s going to take dying to ourselves and our desires EVERY single day, sometimes multiple times a day, in order to set that inner hope aside that any flicker of anything resembling kindness, might be returned back on us. Jesus HAS to be in place as our number one source of encouragement and fulfillment. Of course, it is POSSIBLE that eventually that may happen, and you may be rewarded in the end with the kind of friendship that can’t be broken because she has tested you and she KNOWS you’re in it for good. But, that cannot be our goal. We cannot use kindness to accomplish our agenda.
It truly takes Jesus to teach us how to love like that.