Never Underestimate the Power of Kindness
Women in jail have such tremendous needs. They face such complex situations. Criminal charges. Poverty. Abuse. Addiction. Homelessness. These women needed lawyers, doctors, addiction specialists, and social workers. I spent 5 years as a volunteer chaplain in the Seminole County Jail, and many days I would walk out of the jail with an overwhelming sense that I had not done enough. They really did not need a pastor’s wife who was living in the suburbs raising three children. As I lamented my inability to make real change in the lives of the inmates, the chaplain to women said to me, “Leigh, every week you spend a day with these women, and you are kind to them. Never underestimate the power of kindness.”
Years later, our 22 year old son was diagnosed with cancer. Thankfully, it was a treatable, curable cancer. However, it did require four long months of chemotherapy. Day after day, week after week, I would drive up to the valet stand at UF Health Cancer Center with my son in the passenger’s seat. And day after day, week after week, we would be greeted by Thomas, the afternoon valet manager. Thomas quickly learned our names and each time we pulled up, he would warmly greet us in the driveway. He would open our doors and express genuine care for my son and for me. When a day of chemotherapy was over and he was getting us into my car to head home, Thomas seemed to always know exactly what to say and what not to say.
One afternoon while my son was getting his infusion, I wandered outside and sat down on a bench in front of the hospital. For an hour, I watched Thomas work. So many very sick people. So many exhausted caregivers. Thomas was kind to every single one. He opened doors. He hugged people. He lifted wheel chairs out of trunks and into trunks. He carried bags, purses, oxygen tanks, and canes. He stood patiently offering his hand to cancer patients as they used their last bit of strength to get out of cars.
The valet driveway at the cancer center is a busy place. It is nonstop activity. There are people waiting in line on the sidewalk for their cars. People are sitting in their cars waiting to pull up and hand off their keys. The sick and the elderly sit in wheel chairs or lean on their walkers waiting to be picked up. Nurses, doctors, and other staff walk through the patients, caregivers, and cars as they move to and from the employee garage. So much could go wrong in that space. Caregivers could be frustrated, patients could be short-tempered and employees could be rude. Horns could blare. Accidents could happen. Instead, Thomas set the tone. His kindness diffused impatience and irritability. His kindness made others want to be kind. Never underestimate the power of kindness.
The Bible tells us in Colossians 3:12 to clothes ourselves with kindness. Galatians 5:22 reminds us that kindness is a fruit of the spirit. The Greek word used in these verses is “chrestotes” and is typically used alongside other words like gentleness, goodness, and humility. Chrestotes means a useful kindness; meeting real needs in God’s way.
God can and does use the kindness of his people for his purposes, purposes we may not be able to see.
Christian kindness is different from worldly kindness in that it doesn’t need to be appreciated and it is given to those who have done nothing to deserve it. Christian kindness is not a good deed motivated by self interest. Christian kindness is not reflected in self-congratulatory Facebook posts when one has served another. In Ephesians and Titus we learn that Jesus Christ is the demonstration of God’s kindness towards us. Therefore, Christian kindness is marked by humility and self sacrifice.
During the four months that my son endured chemotherapy, I watched a valet manager accomplish more than parking and retrieving cars because he spent his time looking outward. Thomas had a job that might seem inconsequential to some, but the way he did his job, with useful kindness, meant his work had tremendous significance. He kept hundreds of people safe every day. He soothed the suffering of cancer patients. He eased the burden of caregivers. He taught this suburban mom a powerful lesson. Never underestimate the power of kindness.
Leigh Swanson is the Vice President of Community Relations at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando. She is married to Dr. David Swanson, Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Orlando and they have three adult children and one amazing daughter-in-law.