Kindness, Gentleness, Forgiveness
Kindness is pretty easy. As long as the person to whom you are extending this kindness is open, appreciative and easy to get along with. Very often, those people are kind themselves, so the hardest part may be getting them to let you be kind to them. They may be in the quid pro quo mode, and not wanting to owe a kindness. A nice problem to have.
More challenging is to be kind to the unkind. To love the unlovable, to serve the unappreciative. To help those undeserving of our help. This is hard stuff.
We are challenged to do the hard stuff. As the saying goes, 'hurt people hurt people.' They can be defensive - closed off and unwilling to interact - or they can be offensive - they hurt you before you (may) hurt them. These folks are in the greatest need of our kindness, and yet, may be the most resistant to it.
As we seek to be more like Jesus, we remember who He sought out to be one of his disciples, a man named Matthew. Matthew had been a tax collector. These were among the 'lowest of the low' in Jesus' day - Jews who conspired with the Roman occupiers to gouge citizens of their rightful taxes, and then a lot more.
Jesus knew who Matthew was. He knew what he did for a living and the corruption that he perpetrated on his own people. So when Jesus told Matthew to 'follow him' a lot of eyebrows were raised. But Matthew followed, recognizing Jesus' kindness - His grace - as his chance to become a better person. He seized that chance.
The Bible doesn't say what the details of any subsequent conversations were. Matthew wasn't a saint right off the bat, and Jesus probably had to exercise patience with him at one time or another. Just as He did with thieves and murderers and swindlers and prostitutes and adulterers and any and all other sinners he encountered.
While this kind of grace was easy for Jesus - it was fundamental to who He was - the Son of God - it's more challenging for us. Most people can be kind and gentle and forgiving to those they love, and those who are kind to them. But people who have hurt us, physically, emotionally or spiritually? That's hard. Really hard.
Why? Pride is one reason. 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.' It's dumb to open yourself up to being hurt again. That is what pride tells us. Don't get fooled, don't be dumb, maintain your dignity at all costs. Don't be a schmuck.
Why else? Bitterness. The hurt keeps hurting, reminding you of what that person did to you. Any time you start to entertain the idea of moving forward, or of extending an olive branch, that pain reminds you of how mad, sad or humiliated you were. Bitterness tells you to put the olive branch away.
Pride and bitterness. Pride assumes that others notice and care about how we look, and that we have a reputation to uphold. To some degree, these things are true, but not nearly as much as we think. Bitterness is self-destructive, since whomever hurt us is wandering around unaware or uninterested in our simmering anger. So it only hurts you.
At this point, the cynic might conclude that being kind, gentle and forgiving might be done for selfish motives - attaining the moral high ground, nullifying a sin of your own, or shaming the other person with your magnanimity. But if that's why you're doing it, you're not being kind, gentle or forgiving. You're being vengeful. (in a manipulative, passive-aggressive way).
Kindness, grace and forgiveness are what Jesus called us to do. 'Do' is an important word. Thinking about it, even praying about it is one thing. Doing it is quite another.
Doing kindness involves action. You don't have to build a skyscraper. Buy a cup of coffee. Hold a door open. Talk to someone nobody likes. Give someone a ride somewhere out of your way.
Doing gentleness involves action too. You don't have to tuck someone in at night and give them a teddy bear. Exercise patience when someone doesn't understand. Surprise someone by NOT blowing your top when something goes wrong. Show someone a better, easier way of doing something. Help someone you don't have to help.
Forgiveness involves action as well. It's hard for some of us to even fathom, but it's true. Start with small things. We've all had people hurt us. Sometimes what that person did was entirely unintentional and it's obvious. Let it go and forgive them. Sometimes people hurt us, and we don't know whether they meant to. Maybe they did it on purpose, maybe not. Extend the ever-underrated 'benefit of the doubt.' And forgive them. Lastly, sometimes people hurt you on purpose. They intentionally lied, misled, embarrassed, swindled or in some other way, hurt you. On purpose. What do you do with them?
At this point, a distinction should be made between forgiveness and trust. Forgiveness allows you to move on. Trust is not a required part of that. People bundle them, and that may be another reason why people don't forgive.
So yes, forgive the person who hurt you on purpose. You can decide whether to trust them, but you don't have to. Don't let lack of trust block your forgiveness. Jesus wants you to forgive, therefore you must. He doesn't require you to trust, except to trust Him.
Some actions to take between now and Christmas:
If you're hosting a holiday dinner, invite someone to join who has no family locally or who would otherwise be alone.
Buy a toy and donate it to Toys for Tots
There is someone at work or school that no one likes. Reach out to that person in some way - invite, include or simply acknowledge him or her. Be sincere, and don't worry what others may think. And don't be deterred by their response, or your anticipation of it.
Put some money in the Salvation Army kettle at the mall
Exercise patience with someone with whom you regularly lose it.
Let's say you find out that you were 'right' and someone else was 'wrong.' Don't take the opportunity to gloat.
Think of someone who has hurt you. Resolve to forgive them. If they are still in your life, tell them. If they are not, absolve them of blame, even if they don't care. You do, and that's what matters.
Think of all the grudges you hold for small things where the other person had no intent to hurt you. Let ALL of those things go, and forgive. Now.
Practice the benefit of the doubt. Don't be ashamed to be charitable and forgiving when someone might not deserve it.
Do this, because God forgives you everything you've done and everything you will do that is sin.
God bless you. Merry Christmas.