I listen to the local Christian radio station, and every year around this time, the stories start coming out about “random acts of kindness” or whatever they are calling it this year. I think it was “pay it forward” one year; this year it’s something about “drive-thru giving”. Anyway, whatever the name, the idea is this: people “bless” others by randomly paying their check at a restaurant, paying for the car behind them at the drive-thru, etc.
It’s a nice idea, isn’t it? The idea that we live in a society where, at least for a season, people treat each other the way they would like to be treated. We recently experienced this when we ran to Sonic for dinner and someone had taped $5 Sonic gift cards to each station with just the word “Enjoy!” written on it. I felt very odd taking the gift card, since I felt there were others who probably needed it more than we did, but in the end, my 12-year-old convinced me that since he didn’t have a regular source of income, he needed it as much as the next person. I caved, but wondered if that’s really what the giver had in mind when they placed it there. Did they imagine someone pulling into Sonic on fumes, with only $5 in their pocket, having to decide between buying gas or buying their next meal? Would they be disappointed to know that my son is going to use it to buy himself ice cream some time in the future? I really don’t know, but in the end, it was just a $5 gift card, so I took it without really giving it much thought.
But then, yesterday, I was at the elementary school, trying to maneuver around the carpool lines, when I saw a truck coming toward me. I was pretty much in the middle of the street, and heard someone honk. I thought it was the car coming toward me (in retrospect, I think it was one of the cars in the line, maybe even not honking at me), so I began to back my car up so he could pass. I was looking backward so I didn’t notice that he was trying to move around me. I zigged, he zagged, and we scraped bumpers.
My first instinct was to yell at the man. I wanted to say I WAS TRYING TO BACK UP FOR YOU but instead of yelling the words, I managed to say them in a normal voice, to which he replied, “I was trying to go around you – there was plenty of room.” I apologized then, because, of course, I was the one in the middle of the road, trying to rush around the line of cars. We pulled over to exchange information, and I steeled myself for what I surely deserved – the wrath of a man whose truck was just swiped by a crazy lady with two kids and a dog in her minivan. Instead, this man offered me grace. He started out telling me he didn’t think any damage was done to his truck. He said he rubbed on it and it looked like it would just wash off, like it was more plastic than anything. Then he told me his brother was a police officer, and in this case, he didn’t think either of us would be issued a citation, so we didn’t need to bother calling them. I was wary of his kindness, wondering if he was just trying to avoid getting in trouble himself, but he was clearly aware of my doubt and offered his hand, introducing himself to me. He continued to assure me that this was no big deal, that his truck was just fine, and that these things happen. He said several times “Don’t worry – this is really no big deal.”
I was caught off guard. I was prepared for someone to ream me out; instead, he was nice. He could have been so mean – but he wasn’t. He was just – kind. We did exchange information, just in case, but then he told me just to get the kids home and not to worry about it anymore. So I did. I went home and called Brad – who of course was only concerned about our safety and didn’t even care about the state of the car – and then I went on about the business of my day. But when I had time later to stop and really think about it, I realized how rare a gift this man offered me. It was…loving. It was undeserved. It was a reminder to me of what this season really is about.
Because God didn’t offer a random act of kindness when He sent His Son to earth. God didn’t look down at humanity and just pick out a select few, then offer to pay for their sins. He didn’t offer a band-aid, either – a temporary fix to our problem. When God sent Jesus, He was offering His love in exchange for our hate. He was offering His peace in exchange for our fear. He was – and still is – offering us a way back into fellowship with Him.
I know there’s way more to it than that. I am no theologian. But I have seen God’s love in action this Christmas Season, and it humbled me. Somehow, that’s what I think defines a true act of kindness – it is so undeserved, it brings the receiver to their knees in humility. And maybe for someone who can barely afford their next meal to have someone else step in and pay – maybe that produces that same response. Maybe that’s the point of the random acts of kindness – I’d like to think so. But I still say it’s a whole lot harder to look someone in the eye who has just side-swiped your car and offer them grace, than it is to place a $5 gift card on the stall at Sonic. That’s just my opinion.