The festive season comes with all kinds of traditions and celebrations. The focus is on the togetherness of family and friends, hope, joy, special food, gifts, thankfulness and relaxing. Some say it is their favourite time of year. Some do not. TRICIA HENDRY looks at how we might lovingly respond to those needing extra support if this season just brings them increased distress.
"This time of the year I don’t fit in. I feel like I disappoint others. I’m an inconvenient truth for my church family, you might say. Depression and grief doesn’t lift away just for Christmas, New Year or for sunny summer days. It doesn’t work like that. Jesus knew suffering, and how to recognise it and respond to it, but many of his followers have a harder time doing that, don’t you think?"
— Karl, a bereaved father
Love came down at Christmas, as the song goes. (1) I thank God it did, because this world can be a harsh, unkind place for too many. It might be people struggling with physical or mental illness, addiction, loss and grief, financial hardship, unemployment, loneliness, violence, or broken family relationships. Many people have life challenges that make this time of year tough to handle.
It is easy for us to ‘forget’ what Jesus taught us about interacting with others. We can be quick to leave it to someone else, to opt to stay in our comfort zones, or to avoid eye contact and look busy! Sometimes we do not notice others may be struggling because our own lives preoccupy us.
But whenever we renew our commitment to Jesus, which perhaps is each morning, we are renewing our commitment to respond to others in Jesus’ way.
“Just as I have loved you”
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34‑35).
Jesus loved us with undeserved grace, forgiveness and kindness. He showed us that kindness is how love behaves. He teaches us to respond kindly to those we meet who life has knocked back. This includes the unlovely, the difficult, the challenging and the awkward. It also includes those who have hurt us personally, which can be the hardest of all. Let us be honest, sometimes kindness needs courage.
Your faith, and mine, takes on a whole new authenticity and relevance when we reflect God’s love through our acts of kindness. We will always talk about Jesus more effectively with our lives than our lips. The impact of kindness is powerful. As one well-known saying puts it, kindness is a language that the deaf can hear and the blind can see. US politician and author Bob Kerrey describes unexpected kindness as “one of the most powerful, least costly, most underrated agents of human change that there is.” (2)
This is why the difference our kindness can make is important to God. He designed us with the capacity to be kind because kindness is transformative. Jesus’ own examples show us kindness is never weak or passive: it empowers. His version of kindness was proactive and radical: it changed lives. Jesus reminds us in Luke that he is not just interested in us being good to those who are good back (Luke 6:32-36). He points out that those needing kindness may take us right out of our comfort zones.
“And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:40).
Kindness is never wasted
When it is offered respectfully and without strings attached, no act of kindness is ever wasted. It is often not so much what you say or do that people remember: it is how you make them feel.
- Don’t assume you always know. We do not always know what others are dealing with, or how. Even people close to us may privately be struggling. Kindness is for all; spread it around without favour.
- Even the smallest kindnesses have an impact. A phone call or visit. Remembering a name, or their family members’ names. An invitation. Providing a ride or a meal. A real smile. Being interested in them and including them. These all say, ‘I care’ and ‘You matter to me.’ Wherever you find other people, there are opportunities for kindness.
- Make it about them. Focus on the person’s needs, not yours. People can tell the difference between being pitied or patronised and being respected. They can sense if someone is offering genuine support or is doing it just to feel good about themselves or to fulfil a duty.
- Never push. Find out what needs a person has. They know themselves best, so let them set the pace. Check if an idea you have is something they would find helpful. Understand if they do not accept your assistance. Perhaps offer another time.
- Be there. Turn up. Give them unrushed time and your full attention.
- Listen well, without judgement. Listen more. Avoid rushing in with advice. Your role is not to fix them. Be a companion on their journey for a while.
- Get to know them more, which takes time. Build a relationship that creates trust and mutual support.
- Keep it real. Do not be afraid to have honest conversations with others about their struggles. Even if their experience is far from your own, be ready to listen and learn. Most people, including our millennials, look for Christians they can be themselves with. They are drawn to churches that address relevant life issues with honesty, instead of avoidance, fear, pretence or hypocrisy. An accepting, non‑judgemental environment helps struggling people know they have a safe place, and kind, patient support. Jesus showed us how to do this.
- “They gave me practical help but they encouraged me too.” Encouraging words can help spark hope and self-belief in those feeling overwhelmed or trapped in a situation. Say them, or write them in a card, text message or email. And keep them coming!
- Never gossip about the person. That is not how love behaves.
- Pray. Often. Trust God to know all the factors in play for someone. Ask him to guide them, and you.
- Be patient. Supporting others is not easy, especially if someone is very different from us. Patience needs to be a choice some days. People need time to come through life’s roughest things.
- Remember self-care. Your own well-being matters as much as anyone else’s. Pace yourself. Take time regularly to replenish your soul and your energy. If any situation gets very stressful, or you have serious concerns about someone, use the knowledge and skills of others you trust, including professionals. A team effort can often work well in complex situations.
Lord, help us see others in need with your eyes. Help us respond to them with kindness and, when needed, with courage.
Story: Tricia Hendry
Tricia Hendry is an experienced educator, presenter and writer. Having experienced tragedy herself, she supports people of all ages to better understand the nature of resilience, loss, grief and trauma, and offers ideas for facing life's toughest times. She was a speaker at the July 2017 Baptist LEAD Conference. www.triciahendry.com.
1. “Love Came Down at Christmas,” Hymnary.org, hymnary.org/text/love_came_down_at_christmas.
2. “Bob Kerrey,” QuotesAbout.us, quotesabout.us/author/b/bob-kerrey.
Photo credit: Lisa Forseth/lightstock.com
Scripture: Unless otherwise specified, Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.