This time of year stirs our hearts to be generous in how we give and to whom we give, but there is another facet of this desire to be charitable that gently moves behind the scenes to do something for others ... and that is kindness. Kindness is what beckons each one of us to do something for someone else.
Being kind doesn’t have to be seasonal just because modern culture presents it that way. There are ways to foster this into our lives until it becomes a daily habit.
Kindness is the natural fruit of goodness of the heart. // Saint Katherine Drexel
The Contagious Effect of Kindness
Kindness has to be more than an occasional “pay-it-forward in the Starbucks drive-thru line” for it to take root and become a daily practice. There is nothing wrong with a little pay-it-forward action and I have been blessed to be the recipient of such kindness.
It’s not about affording your beverage of choice; the gift is the unexpected kindness of a stranger.
If we take this approach and apply it beyond the kindness of the drive-thru, we can spread these acts of kindness far beyond Advent and Christmas because our human capacity to love is far greater than what we allow it to be.
Put Your Grocery Cart Back + Follow Him
Okay, it may not have the same connotation as “take up your cross and follow me,” but the premise is similar (stay with me on this one). We all have a cross to bear but may be programmed to think it has to be under the guise of some type of suffering, burden, hardship, or illness. In our daily life, the tiny crosses we bear are part of our bigger crosses, too.
It can be really inconvenient to put the grocery cart back in its corral. After walking the grocery store, checking out, loading up the car, and feeling the angst that comes when littles ones are completely over the shopping trip, putting the cart back is the last thing you may want to do. Even without little ones, the temptation to not put the cart back is very real.
We may not be able to consider our choices at that moment, but the effects are lasting, regardless of which choice you make:
- The temporary fix // Don't put the cart back, get into the car sooner, and zoom out of the parking lot like a race-car driver.
- The long-term influence // Do the right thing because it is the right thing to do and, as a result, help to make someone else’s job easier.
How Can A Grocery Cart Help Us Put Others First?
So many companies are short-staffed this year. We have all felt the effects of living in a fast-paced world with services that are understaffed. Our mindset of immediacy may not match the reality of our external circumstances. The void of understaffed industries gives us an opportunity to be kinder, more patient, and more loving. This is the gift we can offer to one another.
Let’s roll with this example of not putting the grocery cart away (pun intended!).
What are the ramifications for someone else?
- Someone thinks there is a spot open to park their car but there is a grocery cart there. Yes, that is easily resolved by moving the cart out of the way in order to park, but wouldn’t it have been better if it wasn't there to begin with? We all play a role in doing someone else’s job whether that’s easy for us to accept or not.
- That grocery cart that wasn’t returned to its corral has now rolled off and has dented someone else’s car. Now there is a dented car and most likely someone who will be annoyed that it happened with no one to listen to their grievances.
Everything has a chain reaction whether we give thought to it or not. Put the “pay it forward in the Starbucks drive-thru” kindness to the test. It may be easier to pay for someone else’s drink than to walk a couple of extra steps to put a grocery cart away. One costs us financially and the other encourages us to actually be courteous.
The Chain Reaction of Kindness
We can see the influence we have over one another when we become aware of the impact of something as simple as putting the grocery cart away.
There is a great temptation to fall into the mindset that “it's not my job.” While it may not be our job to collect the grocery carts, we can practice putting our neighbor first by taking the time to put the grocery cart away. We can practice those random acts of kindness outside of the Starbucks drive-thru line and be the brother and sisters in Christ that God calls us to be.
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love // Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Serve When You Expect to be Served
Our whole reason for going out to eat is to not have to cook and wash the dishes. It truly is a luxury and no easy feat with tiny tots when this outing occurs. Do we expect to be served even though we already are? Obviously it is not necessary to wipe down the town table and clean up completely, but is there a way to make someone else’s job a bit easier? We’ve all seen the server handle a large tray of plates while gathering the rest. At that moment, we can serve or expect to be served. Out of kindness, we can gather the utensils around us, stack up the plates, and hand them over because we have a Christ-centered heart.
These seemingly insignificant acts of kindness help us cultivate a “put your neighbor first” mentality. Dying to self is not easy, but once we take one small step of thinking about the other person it becomes a habit and changes the hardness of heart that we experience in the world.
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier. // Saint Teresa of Calcutta
Bag It Up
The other day I was at the grocery store and the line behind me was getting long without another cashier nearby. I hesitated about whether or not to help bag my items because the cashier might perceive me as being impatient. However, I just dug right in.
Working together with the cashier turned out to be fun. It reminded me of when I was little and used to play at the grocery store check out stand at my local museum. Suddenly, I forgot about the long line and just became immersed with putting the cold foods with the cold foods and the cereal boxes with the other dry goods, etc.
While bagging up my groceries isn’t my job, I found it to be spontaneous and joy-filled because it was outside of the norm of my typical shopping trip. I was able to do something tangible for someone else and at the same time share a laugh with a stranger, which I would have missed had I taken out my phone or ignored the tug to help.
Paying it Forward All Year Long
Sometimes we miss the opportunity to share joy and bring the love of Christ to others because we don't think it will make an impact. We are so busy, so hurried, that we don't recognize the opportunity to offer a kind gesture. Sometimes we don't act because we think "it's someone else's job."
This isn’t just about putting grocery carts away or bagging up your own groceries (unless the opportunity presents itself) as much as it is an invitation to be open to practicing small acts of kindness that have an immeasurable impact.
If you are a person who needs research to back up this idea of “doing good unto others as you would have them do unto you,” check out this quick read about the scientific benefits of kindness.
This Advent, let's challenge ourselves to prepare our hearts to receive Jesus by practicing tiny acts of love towards our neighbor in order to be receptive to the Father’s love for each one of us.