'Spread love everywhere you go: First of all in your own house... let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness; kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.' Mother Teresa
Mother Teresa understood that kindness begins at home and for my home this is one of the characteristics I really do desire to see in operation. Romans 12 verse 10 exhorts us to 'Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love in honour giving preference to one another.' This verse implies that kindness is to be evident in families!
I love that Mother Teresa calls it a living expression and reminds us that it can be seen on the outside! When I see someone who is not smiling or worse scowling, I do believe it is an indication that something is wrong on the inside and all is not well at home. Kindness is cultivated at home and how we treat our children will reflect how they treat one another and the people they meet outside the home.
it starts with me. I have to be the one who is their example of God's kindness - I am the expression that they see and therefore I have to ask myself 'Do they see kindness in my face?' Do I speak kindly or am I constantly barking out orders? I confess sometimes I bark - I know this because on occasion I hear myself and my words being said in the same manner by one of my children. It is an echo of myself! This is a good wake-up call and it reminds me that I can still issue firm instructions in a kindly voice. So rather than yelling 'Your room is a pigsty clean it up now!' I speak directly to the person and say something like. 'You need to tidy up your room because I almost tripped over when I was carrying the baby. Begin with picking up the floor and I will come down later and help you sort out your wardrobe.'
What happens when I speak kindly is that I find the child concerned is more likely to co operate and because I have broken down the instructions into achievable steps I have given him or her a place to start.
How heartwarming it was for me recently when a mother struck up a conversation at the tennis courts where my son was having a lesson. She told me she had heard all about my son. Her boys had told her that my son was kind to them. We had quite a conversation about raising children. I don't often stay for the lesson but I was now intrigued - I started watching my son's interactions with the other children. He was indeed being kind! Helping out a younger boy - talking to him and involving him. Calling others by their name, picking up the ball they dropped and passing it back and after the lesson offering another boy one of the veggie chips from his packet. Just little acts of kindness - all things we have emphasized in the home. Learn and use people's names. Share with others what you have - don't be selfish. Let others go before you. Don't take the biggest slice of cake for yourself. Notice how many lessons are taught around the family meal table. If you are not sitting down together as a family around your table for meals you need to! I later told my son how I had been observing his kindness to others and how pleasing this was to God. When you catch your children being good reward them with kind words and an admonition to keep on doing good. So many verses in the Bible do this!
Kindness is usually shown by those who have a tender heart. I do believe there are certain things we can do to encourage tenderheartedness in our children. You may be surprised by these suggestions but they are what I have noticed brings out a tender heart in my own children.
Allow them to have pets. With a pet comes responsibility - you have to look after it. Feed it , take it for walks if it is a dog, groom it if it has long fur, talk to it and treat it with kindness. A young baby learns not to pull the cats tail and to be gentle when stroking the dog. I have observed our family pets make our home a much happier place to be and there are lots of lessons to be learned about kindness.
Give them the opportunity to be around younger children and to serve older people. In this home that is unavoidable! Having a family of seven children with ages ranging from 17 years to 6 months is quite a challenge at times but one of the most rewarding aspects for me was to see the effect a new baby in the house had, particularly on my older children. Simply put, it brought out a tenderheartedness in my 17 year old son which I had been unaware of. He is always talking to his baby brother, tickling him, smiling at him and making him laugh. Being kind!
You might not be having another baby but there might be neices and nephews you can invite over. Encourage your older teenagers to include the younger children when kicking the soccer ball around after church, especially their siblings. The opportunity to serve others outside of their age group is one that should be seized! Have them bake for your widowed neighbour and take morning tea over. Involve your teens in the nursing home ministry that your church runs.
And if you are inviting people over - have all your children come out and warmly greet your guests. That includes your teenagers - even the one working on his assignment can come out of his room for a break and say hello. We have been to homes where the older children have ignored us completely - not even a hello. I find this behaviour disturbing if I am truthful. So we have spent lots of time reinforcing lessons about hospitality - simply by doing it and involving everyone in preparing for and looking after guests. Mother Teresa says 'let no one come to you without leaving better and happier. That includes the Telstra guy who comes to fix the phone! I have children, especially a set of twins who make sure he does not leave without being heartily greeted and fare welled!
There are so many lessons we can teach our children about kindness and I have only shared a few but I must add I always tell them that acts of kindness are deliberate not random. There was a movement a number of years ago which encouraged people to practice 'random acts of kindness.' It was quite a good thing while it lasted but I am much more in favour of deliberate acts of kindness. So we teach our children to purposefully look out for opportunities to help people wherever they go. It may be that they do not see that person again but often that one act of kindness leads to another opportunity to bless that person further. This is how we built relationships with our neighbours and our children have always been involved in extending a hand of friendship to others - spreading love.
There is one more specific action I want to mention that involves an act of kindness and once again it involves the home and family. When you invite people over you often invest time preparing - cooking up a gourmet dish, setting a beautiful table but if you only do this when guests are coming you send a message to your family that the visitors are perhaps more worthy of lavish attention. You don't need to cook gourmet food every night for the family but stir the pot of kindness by taking time to cook people's favourite dishes or set a special table on certain nights. I thought of this as I made rice pudding with just one son in mind. I knew he would be thrilled. I knew he was hoping I would make it as soon as it was featured on 'Masterchef' and he was exclaiming 'Rice pudding I love rice pudding!' It was a forty minute investment, stirring that pot to prevent the pan from burning but so worthwhile - just to see my son's eyes light up when he realized what I was making. It tasted wonderful too!
So what do you do in your home to stir the pot of kindness? Cultivating kindness takes time - like a good rice pudding it requires an investment of our time. We need to model it first, we cannot expect our children to speak and act kindly if we do not do likewise. We must encourage it in the home and it needs to be extended outside of our own four walls - to everyone we meet!
Kindness is infectious - it affects people in good ways. So start to spread kindness today from your home. See what happens and work hard to make it a part of your everyday life.
'Revival begins at the kitchen door.' - Angus Buchan
With Love and Joy,