Living With Meaning: Be a Giver of Kindness

May 4, 2011

by Maria Fontaine

The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.—William James


Kind words do not cost much … yet they accomplish much.—Blaise Pascal

I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.—Charles Spurgeon

Everyone craves encouragement. I believe that God wants to encourage people, but a lot of times He needs us to do it. And, believe it or not, we do have what others need. We have God’s love—that is powerful! We have the Spirit of love and the words of love! Our life can be influential because of the power of our words. These words don’t need to be profound or eloquent—just simple words that meet a person’s need for love, hope, significance, or comfort.

If you feel like you have no time, no energy, no expertise, no money, or little to give, don’t worry; that’s common to many of us. But we can all give through our words of encouragement, through which our lives can have influence, and we can spread God’s love wherever we go. In just five minutes or less, we can make a difference at a bus stop, on the metro, crossing the street, at the shop, at work, at school, online, going for a walk, and the list goes on.

A question we can ask ourselves: “What can I say to this person that will help them in some way?—Lift their spirits, brighten their day, make them feel appreciated, valued, worthwhile, feeling good about themselves, that what they’re doing counts?” And then let’s ask the Lord to help us to have the faith to say whatever He lays on our heart to say.

Everyone appreciates knowing that they count, that they’re valuable, and that they’re doing something worthwhile. And often it helps as well if you can accompany your personal commendation with a witness in the form of a tract.

Here’s one personal example of this: Peter and I were sitting in an outdoor café. At the table next to us was a family with a young woman in her late twenties in a wheelchair. She was radiant, and the life of the party, in spite of her disability. As we continued our meal I became engrossed in conversation with Peter and didn’t notice when she wheeled herself away, but I spoke with the mother when she was about to leave.

I told her how impressed I’d been with her daughter. She agreed and was obviously proud of her, and she said that she would tell her daughter what I had said. I added, “Of course, her mother must have had something to do with that.” The mother was touched and gratefully took the tract I gave her.

I like to look at these opportunities to encourage people as part of my “going everywhere doing good” for my fellow travelers through life, like Jesus did.[1] I’ve been given so much, and I feel like these opportunities, though brief, give me a chance to show God’s love and care.

Perhaps our words of encouragement will just be one step in a person’s journey. Even if we don't have any tracts on hand, even if we don’t have time to specifically talk about Jesus, it’s never a waste of time to help someone to have more confidence in themselves, to realize their significance, to be aware that we have noticed something good or special about them. If our purpose is to encourage them, and that is our goal, people will realize that we’re doing it just for them. We’re not trying to get anything out of it—not even a soul, necessarily.

Of course, we do want everyone to come to know Jesus, but if in the back of our mind that’s always our ultimate goal for every personal encounter, we will certainly be disappointed many times. Maybe someone’s search has just begun, or maybe they aren’t even searching yet. But our words of understanding and compassion, together with our prayers, can connect them to God’s love. If they don’t get connected to Jesus immediately, maybe it will happen later.

Sometimes we might see the results of our encouragement; at other times, we will never get to see the results. But the important thing is that we are givers. Some people might not connect the dots right away that God loves them, but perhaps your words will plant the seed or water a seed planted by someone else, so it’s valuable to share those encouraging words. Love never fails, so even if your words don’t result in someone connecting the dots right away, it doesn’t really matter. What does matter is that people feel loved, appreciated, and valued, as when you make them feel that way they are feeling a touch of God’s love. It’s a privilege to be a giver of kindness.

I don’t think that we always have to try to get someone to pray the salvation prayer on the spot, particularly if the encounter is a brief one. Usually, brief encounters with people don’t lend themselves to that. However, what they do lend themselves to is offering “a word fitly spoken,”[2] something that will give people faith in themselves and faith that there are people in the world who are good and kind and concerned. This in turn may cause them to think about the Man of Love who inspires these qualities. If not, it may be a seed planted or watered that will be reaped at some future time.

Our reaching out to encourage and show God’s love to people through our actions can be an important part of the bigger picture of their eventually receiving the Lord when they are ready. As Paul expressed it, one may plant the seed, someone else may water it, but it’s God that causes it to grow in His good time.[3] Our role in people’s receiving the gift of salvation may often involve playing a part in preparing the ground, or the watering and the nurturing stages until the seed finally starts to grow. As Paul goes on to say, “The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.”[4]

Here are a couple of other personal examples.

Some months ago we were boarding a flight, and the steward was quite flustered and a bit rushed, which is understandable when people are boarding. When I politely requested some water, he asked me gruffly if I couldn’t wait until we were in the air. Because I really couldn’t wait, I persisted, and he begrudgingly gave it to me.

When we were in the air, he came down the aisle serving drinks. When he got to my seat, I stopped him and told him that I had been noticing his interaction with the passengers and I had been impressed with how caring he was with them, and that I appreciated that we had such a nice steward to take care of us. He barely acknowledged me, possibly because he felt ashamed of his earlier reaction toward me. But regardless, our love is never wasted and our giving never goes unnoticed.

On the same flight there was a girl of about ten or eleven sitting in the seat in front of me across the aisle. She had a beautiful big coloring book that her mother had obviously brought as a surprise gift for her during the flight. Occupying the same row was another girl about the same age whose father was seated behind her. This girl had no coloring book, and in fact, didn’t seem to have anything to occupy her.

The girl with the coloring book was busily coloring with her crayons spread out on the table, and the other girl was looking longingly at them. I felt so bad for the girl who had none, so I prayed that the other child would feel moved to tear out a page from her nice coloring book and share it. Sure enough, after a while I saw that she had indeed torn a page out and had given it to her seat-mate and was sharing her crayons with her.

I knew that was probably a sacrifice for her. I leaned forward across the aisle and tapped the girl on the arm and told her that sharing her coloring book with the girl who had none was such a nice thing to do. She brightened up and was obviously pleased that someone had noticed.

I don’t know how far that little exchange will go, but I would like to think that the next time she has to make a decision to share something, that she will be reminded of the woman who was proud of her because she had made the right decision.

I know many of you are experts at sharing your love in beautiful ways as you interact with people. You know what I’m talking about when I say how fulfilling it is to be able to be Jesus’ love to lift someone’s spirit with your words or smiles or deeds. I know many of you have had many more occasions than I have to meet people and learn how to best interact with them, as you’re out and about a lot more than I am. I’m sure you have many stories of your own, and these are part of what makes being a Christian so special—your faith in action.

The little encounters we have with strangers call for faith that our words will make a difference. Most of the time we don’t know what the end result will be, and in most cases we may never find out in this life. However, we know that love never fails, and when we pray and put feet to our prayers, there is always something that happens in the person’s heart and spirit.

As someone once said, “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”[5]

[1] Acts 10:38.

[2] Proverbs 25:11.

[3] See 1 Corinthians 3:5–7.

[4] 1 Corinthians 3:8 NLT.

[5] Leo Buscaglia.

Photo L-R: Olivia and Stephanie. Photography by Tina Miles