One Reason Why It's Hard to Be (Authentically) Kind

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I remember the day I read 2 Corinthians 1:3-4:

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

I had two reactions, though I can't remember which came first. One, was an "ah-ha!" moment where I realized that comfort seems to works a lot like grace. It's very difficult to give grace unless you have first received it. If you don't know why you'd need it (or deserve it), it's quite difficult to see how and where and when other people might need it—especially from you.

The second reaction was more like an "oh (bleep)!" reaction.  

Why? Because I don't like receiving comfort—from God or most anyone else. To read that in order to give it well, I had to receive comfort from the Comforter of all comforters, seriously made me squirm. I felt awkward. I felt vulnerable. Everything in me wanted to push this gift away.

There are a plethora of reason why this is—mostly because I've spent most of my life being in charge. I made conversations about the other person's problem. Even when I've shared my own, I've tried to sum them up in tidy bows so people wouldn't think I'd actually need something from them. I pretended that I was all good so people wouldn't stare at me with (what I viewed as) pity.

I remember in my first counseling session, I told my counselor a story from my life and she looked at me, tears in her eyes, and said, "I am so sorry that happened. I am so sad for you." Hearing those words sent my head spinning:

  • I don't need pity.
  • It is what it is.
  • No use crying about it now.
  • Why are you crying???
  • Please, can we move on.
  • Why aren't we moving on?
  • How long to we have to sit here feeling sorry for me?
  • I can't take it anymore!

I don't remember how I got out of that conversation, though I'm pretty sure she realized I was extremely uncomfortable with comfort at that moment. Every single session, in some form, she made me practice receiving it. In order to do it, I had to tell myself that I couldn't minister to other people well unless I did this. Somehow doing it for someone else gave me the motivation to bear with the process—it wouldn't come until later on that I could actually start receiving it just for me.

When I did, however, I noticed how my heart began to change. When I truly allowed myself to both admit that I needed comfort and open myself up to receiving it, God showed me that this is not about pity. It's not about being weak. Comfort is really about sharing suffering. It's about truly seeing another person, validating the hard, and offering something to alleviate the pain, even if only temporarily. So much of the time, this offering is being with us in whatever pain we find ourselves in so we're not alone. Comfort is not about fixing. It's about sitting. Sometimes, in silence.

As I have allowed people to comfort me, the more I am able to genuinely sit with others. The following is also true: The more grace I see I need, the more grace I am able to extend. The more I allow myself to be loved and cared for, the more I am able to genuinely love and care for others.

I am wondering: Could this be true for kindness, too? If I don't believe I should be kind to myself, am I able to, with no strings attached, be kind to others? If I don't practice treating myself with kindness, do I really believe that being kind to others is truly valuable? Am I kind because I genuinely want to be, instead of just because the Bible tells me to be or because it's the "right thing to do?"

So much of these questions are rooted in my struggles about my worth. If I give into the lie that my worth is based on my work, it will be very difficult for me to devote time to be kind to myself. If self-kindness becomes a rewards-based system, I run the risk of telling myself I didn't do well enough or give enough to really deserve it. I will then just keep pushing myself, relentlessly. And if I believe that kindness must be meted out, weighed on an invisible scale, am I ever able to give to others freely? Without secretly keeping a record of my goodness or expecting something in return?

And in this process, I build resentment. Because my soul wants to receive kindness. My soul craves restoration and refilling, even if I deny it. And when I see someone else's need for kindness, my awful fleshy default might very well end up being, "Why should he/she receive my kindness. Don't you see how hard I'm working?" And the worst part? I'll probably still "show" kindness (because that's the "right action") but the giving won't be authentic. And what does God say about that? 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 says:

"The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

It is so good to be kind to others, especially our spouse. When we are kind to our spouse, we reap the benefits, too. But if are unsure if we are good enough to receive kindness, or show it to ourselves, we leave for much fertile ground that sprouts bitterness.

I'm not advocating great self-indulgence or spending copious about of money on ourselves to show ourselves kindness (this is not a Parks and Rec "treat yo'self" moment). But for those of you, like me, who have the habit of viewing yourselves as work horses, who struggle with rest, who weigh whether or not you deserve something (from God or others), it's worth exploring how you can be kind to yourself. And as you treat yourself kindly, it will be worth it to see if you are able to be a cheerful giver, unhindered by the weight of the scale and the reins of the plow.

You are worth it. Just like me.