At the end of January, I set out on a quest. The goal? To instill kindness in our hearts, with the hopes of deepening my children’s love for each other and bringing peace to our home. Doesn’t that sound lovely? It sounds like heaven to me.
My vision: starting each morning by reading Bible verses about love and kindness. Journaling reflections about what God is doing in our lives to teach us about kindness. Each child writing a kind message to her sister every day.
Reality: Angry words muttered between children. Me, “Oh, yeah, please take out your kindness journals.” Must have kindness. Each of us sitting down to read our verses. Me coercing the children to write something kind about her sister. Them, briskly pumping out the words on paper, slamming notebooks shut, and then promptly getting annoyed with each other. Me, “Remember what you just wrote about you sister???” Repeat this 22 days in a row and you get the idea. My vision, failed. Well kind of.
In my quest for kindness…(hey, that has a nice ring to it…quest for kindness), I became more aware of messages about kindness. The King James Bible uses the word kindness 73 times. A quick search on Amazon reveals book titles such as, The Power of Kindness, Each Kindness, The Hidden Power of Kindness, and Kindness Counts.
I picked up the book The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship. There were daily assignments which focused on avoiding all criticism and instead looking for the good in another person and saying it aloud, writing it down, and telling others.
These exercises were beneficial for me. I was completing the tasks with my husband in mind. Sending him an encouraging, thanks-filled text each day, telling others what I appreciate about him and making a genuine effort to avoid nagging and criticism. I began seeing him in a more positive light. It became noticeably easier as the month went on. I’d see things he had always done: take out the trash, hug us when he got home from work, remain dedicated to his work, make his health and the health of our family a priority, etc.,etc.,etc. as things I was incredibly thankful for.
But, the hearts of my children…hmmm…I saw little change in the first 22 days. On the days in which they remembered to write down an action step, a specific step they would take to show kindness to each other, there was sometimes an outward sign of kindness. One girl would play what the other one chose. One girl would help the other girl with her math. One girl would make breakfast for the other girl. This was nice. This was really nice. But, was it producing a heart change?
On day 22, the clouds parted and God shed His understanding on our need.
We need thankfulness first. Sometimes there’s an order to these things. I think about the Bible reading we talked about that morning, “because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4. We talked about how each trait is like a rung on a ladder. Each step necessary before ascending to the next step.
This exercise in noticing good things and kindly stating them was working for me because I had been practicing thankfulness for years.
Years ago, during a particulaly uncertain time in my life, the Lord began working in me to find things to be thankful for every day. Every day includes both the good days and the bad days. I began listing 5 things I was grateful for at the end of the day. Somedays it is easy. Children are learning, the sun is shining, energy is flowing, and the gratitude list practically writes itself. Other days, I sit like a stubborn child, blank mind, sour attitude, refusing to acknowledge there would be anything to be grateful for that day. But, it’s on those days that the list is more important than ever. It’s those days when my heart has a chance to soften as I note the goodness in what the Lord allowed into my life that day.
Thankfulness changes hearts. Thankfulness is changing my heart. Thanking God in the midst of the trial is what changes my heart. I start to see what the Lord has for me at the moment.
When sharp words war between my children, I can look for God through thankfulness.
When lab results return, I can look for God through thankfulness.
When the day drags on, I can look for God through thankfulness.
Ann Voskamp, in 1000 Gifts writes, The only way to fight a feeling is with a feeling. Feel thanks and it’s absolutely impossible to feel angry.
Yes, it’s thankfulness we need. Giving thanks in ALL things will bring heart change. Words of kindness will flow when our hearts are softer from accepting what God allows into our lives and responding with gratitude.