Kindness: An Engine for Change

We enter a new year full of new opportunities. Perhaps there are changes you are hopeful to begin making with this fresh space in front of you. It’s a blank canvas on which perhaps you can create something new.

When it comes to change, there have been too many times when I opted to be hard on myself, expecting that this would drive me to change. But being critical of myself has never led to lasting change (even if it caused some change for a season).

One of the wise lines of scripture that often speaks to me in my bad habit of condemning myself or being harsh with myself is in Paul’s letter to the Romans: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance (Ro. 2:4)?”

Harshness doesn’t lead to change. Kindness does. God loves us so that we can and will change. We do not change so that God will finally love us. Many new year’s resolutions operate on the basis of achieving favor and acceptance. But we will never change in a lasting way until we begin that change process rooted in confidence that we are already beloved.

That line about kindness leading to repentance comes in a wider context in which Paul is warning us that self-righteous judgment of others is essentially casting judgment on ourselves.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

When I find myself reacting to someone else’s need for change, the source of that potential anger is nearly always my own wrongs. Whatever I judge in another is a condemnation of myself because of my own guilt in the same sorts of things. I may not specifically be guilty of exactly the ways or acts of the one I judge, but what empowers my judgmental attitude is the very sort of shortcoming or disobedience I am judging in myself.

I am in no position to stand in judgment because God has not appointed me as judge over others. So if I find myself looking down my nose at another, it helps to ask what it is about their shortcomings that echo my own. I’ll be able to treat others with kindness if I learn to begin treating myself with the kindness with which God is treating me.

I must not make light of the riches of God’s kindness, forbearing mercy and patience by being unkind, harsh, and impatient with another.

And wherever I am feeling the need for change in my life, it will help if I begin with acknowledging that God loves me right now in my unchanged state. God looks at my need for change with eyes of mercy, kindness and grace. He wants good and holy change for me, and his kindness is what will inspire, energize and sustain that change.

For Reflection:

  • Where are you feeling a need or a desire to make a change in your life in this new year?
  • In what way have you been tempted to view yourself unkindly in this area of your life?
  • How might you hear the voice of the Lord saying, “I want to help you change. You can change. I love you now so you can begin to change.”

Resource: We developed a tool to help you reflect back on your year with eyes open for the grace and kindness of God. You can access that “Annual Examen” here.

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