Here’s something Christians don’t talk about much: there are limits to practicing kindness. There are times you find yourself telling someone “no,” times when you can’t go the extra mile. Times when you need to be a little selfish. Take my own story as an example here:
It was Monday afternoon, the day AFTER our youth fall retreat to Awanita (meaning my body was suddenly super sore from zip lining and I still needed to catch up on some sleep). I had driven out to Ingles to pick up just a few items for dinner. Namely, I needed some bacon, because nothing hits the spot like a breakfast-for-dinner meal with all the works! So I’ve got my bacon and a few other non-healthy items placed in orderly fashion on the conveyer belt. The person in front of me is taking a long time—probably writing a check or something—but the end is in sight and my wallet and Ingles Advantage card (of course) are in hand. Then I look to my left and see an elderly woman. She looks up with impatient eyes and says, “Can I get in front of you?”
And I said “no.”
Seriously, I told the elderly woman “no.” I really surprised myself, because I know the right thing to do is to say “Yes, of course you can!” Even if you think it’s a rude thing to ask, you’re supposed to say “Yes” – let your selfless generosity bring you selfish pride later. My experience and my heart and my head all told me that’s what I was supposed to say. But my exhausted body overruled and I heard myself instinctively saying “no” instead.
Now, I feel I should clarify a few things here: the elderly woman had two items in hand, but I only had eight. And mine were already on the belt! The woman had two small packages of Peeps—and really, who comes to the store and only buys Peeps? It’s not even Easter! Besides, I had bacon that needed cooking! I think I did add the words, “I’ll be quick!” to my “no,” but the damage was done. So I proceeded to watch the woman leave the Peeps on the edge of the belt, take her fistful of dollar bills, stuff them back into her purse, grab her friend and go, saying something like “Come on, we’ll just come back another time.”
I was kind of appalled at this whole unexpected turn of events. I couldn’t believe she even asked me, let alone was willing to leave those fluffy Peeps behind because of my insistent rejection. Of course, by the time I speedily checked out (as promised) and carried my few items to my car, I could see her and her friend pulling out of the parking space, and I was thinking, “See—I told you I’d be quick!” But off they drove, Peep-less, leaving me to ponder the blunt limits of my kindness.
This was no terrible thing I did, and honestly I imagine many would have reacted the same way. But as seemingly insignificant as this was, it revealed the honest contingencies that undergird my orientation towards compassion. One of those contingencies is my own fatigue and burnout, which highlights the importance of self-care. We must all pay attention to those moments when we are reaching the limits of our energies and then work to address them in holistic, restorative ways. Lest we find ourselves saying “no” to a simple act of kindness. This is part of that second greatest commandment, according to Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself!” (Mt 22:39). This is probably at least one of the reasons the gospel narratives mention Jesus finding certain moments to get away by himself and be alone (e.g., Matthew 14:23: “After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.”). Were he not Jewish, I’d be tempted to say he occasionally enjoyed a bacon-filled breakfast as part of his quiet time and self-care.
While at Awanita, students and adult leaders were invited to “practice Sabbath” on Saturday between lunch and dinner. As I explained, Sabbath does not simply mean going to church or resting; it really means to refrain from work for the purpose of being restored. We all need moments, if not days, to stop working, to stop serving, to stop producing, and instead enter a time of playfulness and relaxation. Naps count, as do fun games of volleyball or cards. Hiking, making music, dancing, reading a book…all of these are great ways to practice Sabbath. Saying “yes” to these moments of Sabbath will not only help care for your own body, mind, and spirit; it’ll also prevent you from blurting out “no” to a future opportunity to practice kindness.
“So you see that a sabbath rest is left open for God’s people. The one who entered God’s rest also rested from his works, just as God rested from his own. Therefore, let’s make every effort to enter that rest so that no one will fall by following the same example of disobedience.” (Hebrews 4:9-11)
Along the Journey…