Once a year I spend five glorious days at a women’s retreat in Colorado. I am fortunate to volunteer with an incredible ministry, alongside a team of fierce warriors as they share the truth of the Gospel, the mission of Jesus, and the hope of the coming Kingdom. These dear ones fight for the hearts of the women in attendance, mine included, and I am deeply honored to be in their company.
At the end of each retreat, a moment comes when the leader of this ministry—a tender and loving man—takes my hand in his, looks me in the eyes, and offers his gratitude for my service. Yet, instead of thanks, it feels as though he has handed me a hot potato. I cannot wait to toss it back to him as quickly as possible with a “No, thank you!” This game has been going on for seven years.
This year as I have worked with a gifted counselor I’ve felt these same hot potatoes lobbed at me nearly each week. Oftentimes I’ve left our sessions in discomfort, and I’ve wondered what in the world is going on. After all, I am sitting in the presence of another tender, loving soul and receiving Spirit-led care. I am safe, and I know it. Why do I want to flee?
Finally, after pondering exactly what was happening, I was able to give a name to the hot potato: Kindness. It is the kindness of both of these men that disrupts me so. Rather than surrender and receive their kindness, I deflect—“No, thank you.”—or withdraw—breaking eye contact, shrugging my shoulders, or changing the topic. I make a hasty retreat, as I toss the potato back in their direction.
I’ve often dismissed my reaction to kindness as humility. “Your praise really isn’t necessary,” I defer. “I was only doing my part. It was nothing.” Their kindness tells me this is untrue. “It was something,” kindness replies. “You are something.” I blush and turn away…or more likely, run away.
Why can kindness be so disruptive? Why is it so difficult to receive?
After all, it isn’t hard for me to offer kindness. I love making someone feel seen, affirming him or her with my words, meeting a tangible need, or giving an unexpected gift. In fact, I delight in such opportunities. I understand the joy of showing kindness; however, I am baffled by the ache of receiving kindness.
Receiving kindness from others seems to require vulnerability on my part—to hold a gaze, to receive praise, to accept tender truth. Kindness also compels me to see myself through the lens of another’s eyes, which isn’t so easy. It beckons me to look, and it exposes my resistance to see the best in me. In the end, I know that if I receive their kindness, then I must extend this kindness to myself. Ouch…that’s the part that burns.
However, kindness has a force that won’t easily relent. It invites, disrupts, reveals, and heals. Perhaps more than any other act, kindness has the capacity to break through the darkness and introduce light. J.R.R. Tolkien names its power in The Hobbit. He writes, “Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”
I am learning to receive kindness—from my counselor, family, and others. Even though it is uncomfortable, I hold the hot potato, trusting that I am safe and will not be burned. When I retreat, kindness urges, “Stay with me.” When I hide, kindness says, “I see you.” When I am lonely, kindness assures, “You are not alone.” When I hurt, kindness whispers, “I care for you.” Little by little, I recognize that its warmth isn’t harming, but rather it is holy.
The warmth of kindness seeps into my skin, delivering truth and inviting transformation. Oftentimes, I weep—the power of kindness ministering so deeply to my tender heart—but I will not toss it away any longer. Next spring I will return to Colorado once again. For five days I will generously pour myself out in acts of kindness. Then, I will find myself being handed a hot potato. What will I do?
I will hold it in my heart, receive this kindness, and absorb its warmth. Then, I will respond, “You are welcome.”
Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.