Embracing the Gray Areas of Kindness

by Kendall Norman

I’m the type of person who wants to know the rules.

When I know the rules, I feel secure in knowing what’s right and wrong. I want to know that I’m doing the right thing, and rules usually feel like a good way to measure myself. Today, I want to know the rules about kindness.

When “kindness” is used in the Bible, it’s usually describing someone being gracious and pleasantly helpful toward someone. We’re told in Ephesians 4:32 to be kind and tenderhearted towards each other, and kindness is one of the Fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5.

It seems like conversations about kindness are everywhere these days. And that’s a good thing! The world could definitely use more kindness.

But something happens to me when I see quotes like, “Be kind to everyone, always.” In my mind’s eye I begin to see Jesus saying things like:

“You guys are like a bunch of tombs…all nice on the outside, but filled with dead bodies on the inside. How do you expect to escape hell?” (Matthew 23)

Then my mind flashes back to the definition of kindness: pleasantly helpful, gracious. Telling some people that they are like a tomb filled with dead bodies doesn’t sound very pleasantly helpful to me.

Jesus is God on earth, showing us how to live life as humans. And as a Jesus-follower, I look to him as an example of how to live.

And, again, my mind asks, “Then what are the rules? Do I get to tell people exactly what I think of them (using colorful metaphors), or do I have to be kind to everyone, always?”

And this, my friends, is the dreaded gray area.

Jesus showed kindness to people, AND he had moments where something other than kindness was called for. When religious hypocrites put burdens of guilt on people, Jesus was not kind to them (Matthew 23). Sometimes he refused to answer questions (Luke 20), or even completely ignored people (Luke 23:9). But…he also told his disciples to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors (Matthew 5).

It turns out that there is not an exhaustive list of each and every moment of our lives, with rules on exactly what to say and do in every moment.

It turns out that in order to discern which situations need kindness (pleasant helpfulness) and which ones need something else, I need communication with Jesus – Wisdom himself. The Bible says that if I lack wisdom, I should ask God to gift it to me (James 1). It’s going to be impossible to know every rule for every possible interaction in life ahead of time.

But…it IS possible to study wisdom from Scripture, and to ask Jesus himself to help me in each moment. And I’m going to trust that he’s true to his promise to help me.

So, there aren’t black-and-white rules of kindness for every possible moment.

And you know what? That’s a good thing. Why?

Picture your closest friend. Now imagine yourself texting that friend and saying, “Hey, what are the rules for every possible moment of our friendship? I need the list ahead of time. Thx” …and then never talking with that friend again.

A list of rules without communication is no relationship.

I need wisdom and understanding to know what each person needs in each situation. Jesus knew the hearts of the Pharisees, and he knows the heart of every person I meet…and I don’t.

So this rule-follower is going to ditch her need for a list of Kindness Rules, and replace it with a friend: Jesus. I’m going to ask him to guide me, and I’m going to learn to trust him to walk me through the gray areas of kindness.

One thought on “Embracing the Gray Areas of Kindness

  1. ArynTheLibraryan

    I hadn’t ever thought about the gray areas of kindness quite like this before. As you said, sometimes kindness is kind, and other times it’s tougher. And Jesus will help us navigate! Amen!


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