To borrow from Mr. Rogers, it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood in my neck of the woods on this first day of 2020. The morning started off cloudy, but now in mid-afternoon, the sun is bright and the sky a clear blue with a few white clouds scattered here and there. Temp is in the mid-forties, but feels cooler in the breeze. A day when optimism and hope come easy – the perfect way to begin a new year.
But the weather isn’t like this in every neighborhood this New Year’s Day. And hope and optimism don’t come easy to every household – not even in my own neighborhood.
Across the world, tragedy strikes the lives of many. In Australia, the wildfires continue to rage, and in the Philippines, the clean-up from the typhoon continues. In other nations, people suffer under tyrannical regimes. Some neighborhoods in America are grief-stricken over lives taken by men with hatred in their hearts. In many homes, illness or broken relationships or drug addictions make optimism and hope seem like cruel fantasies. Even in the best of neighborhoods, no household, really, is untouched by tribulation of one sort or another.
This truth has come home to me more in the last few years than it ever has before. Maybe it’s my age or the events that have occurred in my own family – or maybe God is finally opening my eyes. Whatever the cause, I’ve come to realize in a profound way that everyone we meet is dealing with something in their lives. And with this realization, I’ve also become more aware of how very important kindness is in our interactions with other people.
The server who ignores us while busily texting on his cell phone. The grumpy clerk at the 7-11. The snippy customer service representative at the local bank. The postal worker who delivers our package to the wrong address yet again. It’s so tempting to get angry or frustrated when these things occur. Yet, who knows what these people are going through as they try to do their jobs and get through their days?
On the Monday before Christmas, I spent the entire day finishing my Christmas shopping. So close to Christmas, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find the people I encountered throughout the day to be surly and grumpy. Instead, I found most of them to be friendly and kind. It really made my day, and made me think even more about how much we can all benefit from kindness – the kindness we show to others and the kindness they show to us.
At the beginning of each new year, some people choose a word representing a characteristic they would like to develop in their lives to focus on for the next year. I didn’t choose such a word last year; nevertheless, through God’s grace, gratitude became the theme running through my year, and I found myself much better acquainted with gratitude at the end of 2019 than I had been at the beginning.
This year, I think God is already showing me the characteristic I need to focus on for 2020 – kindness. In his book, Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly says that Jesus wants us to be generous not only with our “time, talent, and treasure” but also with our “praise and encouragement” and “compassion and patience.” Kindness could easily be added to that list.
As one of the nine fruits of the Spirit Paul names in Galatians 5:22, kindness is clearly a characteristic God values. Being generous with our kindness is one way, as Kelly further says, that God “can love and intrigue the people in your life.” And the people in your life include the oblivious server, the grumpy clerk, the snippy customer service rep, and the error-prone postal worker.
In her 1969 hit, “Put a Little Love in your Heart,” Jackie DeShannon sings, “I hope when you decide/Kindness will be your guide/Put a little love in your heart.” As we go into the new year, let’s decide to share the love Jesus puts in our hearts with the people we meet by being extravagantly generous with our kindness. If we do, “the world,” as DeShannon sings – or at least the part of it we can touch – will surely “be a better place” when 2020 comes to a close.