Several weeks ago I took my twin daughters and my niece out for lunch at a small town cafe. As a Dad you always hope your kids mind their manners. So it was nice to hear Annie and Emma say “please” and “thank you” without being prompted.

When our server left to go get our beverages Annie asked, “Daddy, what’s her name?”

“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her?”

When she came back delivering our iced tea and lemonade Annie did just that.

“What’s your name?”

“Joanna. What’s your name?”

“Annie.” Annie stuck a straw in her mouth and Joanna went back to the kitchen to bring our food.

When she returned to our table Annie looked at her and said, “Joanna. That’s a pretty name.”

For a brief second Joanna looked disoriented. As though the unexpected compliment was an item she wasn’t used to finding on her daily menu. She smiled. A real smile. Not a Sweet N Low substitute smile, but a 100% real sugar smile that takes over your face when someone has genuinely made your day.

“Thank you, Annie.”

“You’re welcome.”

Joanna went back to the counter with a tiny tear in her eye and a spring in her step. Annie went back to her chicken strips and fries. I sat staring, blessed by a lesson in the power of a kind word as taught by my 6-year old daughter.

A truth about relationships is that when we meet people we either leave them a little bit better or a little bit worse, but we never leave them the same. There is no neutral. People are either a little bit better or a little bit worse for having spent any amount of time with us.

When we live by this truth, it changes the way we view the so called “random encounters” in our day. We have opportunity to significantly bless the lives of others in the briefest of interactions. She may be the person behind the counter of the convenience store who takes your money as you say “$20 on Pump #2”. But what would happen if you linger just a few seconds to ask how she is really doing and really listen? That simple act alone sets you apart from every other person she will ring up that day.

In the past few weeks I’ve tried to be mindful of Annie’s lesson in kindness and take time to do more than the blow and go greetings that are my habit. I’ve tried to stop and ask questions. How are you? How are your kids? What’s happening in your life? How’s work? Once people realize you really care, their life, full to the brim, comes spilling out.

“My daughter keeps having ear infections.”

“My Grandma died.”

“They moved me to a different department at work and I hate it.”

“I’m going through a divorce and I’m at the end of my rope. I can’t do this anymore.”

“My kids are driving me crazy!”

“The doctor says it’s cancer. He thinks he got it all but I’m waiting for the biopsy. Am I scared? You have no idea.”

“There’s nothing for me here anymore. I’m so lonely. I don’t know what to do.”

Life is hard. For all of us. When we communicate kindness we’re saying, “You’re not alone.” When we communicate kindness we are following God’s example. God is infinitely kind to us. What is mercy and grace but the ultimate kindness? Sparing us the punishment we deserve and in it’s place showering us with favor we don’t deserve?

Kindness is a catalyst. It encourages us to risk being more of who we really are. We relax a bit. We open up a little more. We’re more comfortable and less threatened. Timely words that touch our heart leave us better than before. Because kindness shown to us respects our inherent value as people created in the image of God.

Take time to be kind. Sincere compliments. A listening heart. A helpful hand. We know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of such blessings. Even better to be a giver of kindness.

Go make someone’s day.

“Do you not know it is God’s kindness that leads you to repentance?”

– Romans 2:4

“Kind looks, kind words, kind acts, and warm handshakes – these are secondary means of grace when men are in trouble and are fighting their unseen battles.”

– John Hall

Todd A. Thompson – February 13, 2007

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