There’s a popular quote circulating the internet. You’ll find it emblazoned on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and wall art from Hobby Lobby. “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” It always makes me smile. After all, who among us could disagree with that sentiment!?
During this time of global unrest and anxiety, extending kindness to others is something we can all do to ease the burden. Waving at a jogger, letting someone in front of you in line, and even a simple smile cost nothing at all. And it goes a long way in helping to make the world a better place. If we set out to offer kindness, opportunities will pop up like wildflowers everywhere we go.
I walked into my favorite home decor store toting a plastic bag filled with items to return. Nearly 20 minutes passed since I took my place in line. My mask grew damp with each exhale, and my shoulders ached from the weight of the items as they mercilessly stretched the bag. Finally, I stepped to the front of the line and the cashier waved me over to her station. I approached with a smile.
Although she couldn’t see it behind my mask, I hoped the way my eyes crinkled at the corners gave it away.
Before I said a word, she immediately apologized, explaining it was her first day on the job. My return meant this was an opportunity for her to learn a new procedure on the cash register. I reassured her that it was ok and I was happy to wait for an available coworker to come to her aid.
We made small talk for a bit, and eventually a fellow cashier arrived. When the process was complete, the newbie handed me the receipt, leaned forward and said, “Thank you for being so kind.”
It struck me so suddenly that I had to think twice about her words. All I did was stand there patiently, after all. I chatted with her and encouraged her.
I suppose that’s all it takes.
I wondered, “How many times a day does she find herself on the receiving end as people spew unkindness?” Plenty, I guessed. Especially during a stressful time like a global pandemic.
Extending Kindness to Ourselves
As I walked to my car, a new realization settled in. I immediately became convicted of plenty of instances when I withheld kindness. On purpose.
Images scrolled through my mind like ticker tape as I remembered so many instances of unkindness. I closed my eyes, and my own face stared back at me. My own recent thoughts and inner dialogue flooded my mind.
“Why aren’t you more productive?”
“You’re home all day and can’t even keep up with the housework.”
“You barely finished half the things on your to-do list. What’s your problem!?”
I find it so easy to criticize my mistakes. Dwelling on past offenses, I replay scenarios in my mind where I could have made a better choice. I berate myself when I don’t meet my own expectations.
It’s actually in direct contrast to the truth I know in my heart. Jesus loves me just as I am. He pours out grace every moment of my life. Why can’t I accept that gift?
As soon as I realized what’s been going on, I knew instantly why my heart has felt so heavy lately. Obviously the pandemic and state of our country contribute to those feelings. But I’m not doing myself any favors when I chastise myself for simply being a human who makes mistakes. I’m someone who is merely trying to make it all work, just like everyone else.
Something needed to change. I needed to begin showing kindness to myself. I knew I needed to give myself some grace.
Don’t Should on Yourself
I recently heard the phrase “Don’t should on yourself”, and I kind of love it. I think we can easily get into the habit of “should-ing” on ourselves.
“I should have been more productive today.”
“I should be further along by now.”
“I should be better at ______(meal planning, home-schooling, socializing, etc)
Guess what? We are in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC. We’ve never lived like this before. Our regular tasks and duties are buried under the stress of unexpected challenges.
Online school, hybrid school, mask wearing, political unrest, job loss, lives lost…who could function at peak capacity on even the best of days right now?!
Some days it feels like having an actual plan for dinner is an accomplishment. When I start shoulding on myself and beating myself up for my own perceived shortcomings, it’s quite the opposite of kindness.
This imaginary scenario really drove the point home for me: If a friend confessed that she’s struggling to function, I would never say to her, “Well, you should be trying harder”. I certainly wouldn’t look her in the eye and suggest that she “needs to stop being so lazy”.
So why would I say those things to myself?
This is hard. Be kind to yourself.
I recently soaked up some wise words by Emily P Freeman. Her voice is like wrapping up in a warm blanket and I highly recommend her podcast to everyone. She quoted Rachel Pearl VanEtten, a psychotherapist, saying, “We’re all looking to be grounded, but that isn’t really possible because our foundations keep moving and our plans keep on changing. Instead of searching to be rooted and still, maybe we need to learn to be more like bamboo, still rooted, but more flexible.”
When our world is spinning, we tend to want something to grab on to. Something that will steady us, and give us perspective. When we feel that we don’t have control, the first one we lash out at is often ourselves.
Fear is really putting in overtime right now. Sometimes fear paralyzes us and strips away our logic. Let’s not forget that we are simply human after all. We owe it to ourselves to speak grace-filled words and work to quiet our inner critic.
Be kind to yourself. Stay rooted, but welcome the flexibility that is required of this ever changing situation. We’re all in this together.