We crowded around the table in their tiny Brooklyn brownstone, eating gnocchi and reminiscing about our days as hall mates in our small Bible college. My friends were the “wild girls” – the ones who sometimes played silly pranks or secretly lit candles in the dorm rooms.
It was all ridiculous, innocent (minus the fire hazard) fun, but inevitably girls who didn’t always follow the rules in Bible college will earn some enemies among fellow students.
As we laughed and ate, the conversation turned to all the people who didn’t like us in college, to which one of us had more enemies (I use that term very loosely here).
“I’m sure there were a lot of people who didn’t like me,” I offered. I couldn’t name any of them, but I tended to assume people don’t like me until they prove otherwise, especially back then.
The conversation got quiet and everyone stared at me.
“Everyone liked you, Emily. You were too nice not to like.”
In that moment, I think she meant it as a compliment. But I felt a sense of shame I couldn’t explain or grab on to.
This moment illustrates a belief I’ve held deep down for a long time – being nice is a character flaw.
It never sounds like a compliment to me.
That’s because it isn’t.
I’ve talked and written a lot about being a good girl because I was one (often am one) and it led to an unhealthy image of myself as I related to God and the world around me.
But here I am, almost 39, and my good girl tendencies have healed in many ways.
What’s left behind, I hope, is Jesus and a more true version of myself.
Because I’m learning, however slowly, the difference between being nice and being kind. And the difference is stark.
“Niceness may be pleasant, but it lacks conviction. It has no soul. Niceness trims its sails to prevailing cultural winds and wanders aimlessly, standing for nothing and thereby falling for everything.” – Barry H. Corey, Love Kindness
Niceness comes from a place of fear.
Kindness comes from a place of love.
I am guilty of being nice and calling it kindness. That’s because I haven’t known the difference.
I’ve been reading Love Kindness: Discover the Power of a Forgotten Christian Virtue by Barry H. Corey and I feel like I finally have the vocabulary I’ve searched for. Because for years I’ve wrestled with the difference between being nice and being kind and this book has helped bring that difference into focus for me.
“The way of kindness is not cosmetic. It is from the soul. It’s not performance. It’s purpose. It’s not mechanics. It’s motive. It’s not pretense. It’s candor.” – Barry H. Corey, Love Kindness
Here was the eye opener for me:
If you have hard edges and firm center, that’s called aggression.
If you have soft edges and spongey center, that’s called niceness.
The way of kindness is this:
“Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges . . . It’s time for followers of Jesus to rediscover the power of kindness.”
– Barry H. Corey, Love Kindness
Being kind takes courage I haven’t fully understood until now.
In the current cultural climate, it can be easy to forgo kindness and pick up a way that is either too hard or too soft.
For some, anger leads to aggression – hard edge, hard center.
For others, fear leads to niceness – soft edge, soft center.
It means being approachable, listening with intention, seeking service rather than power.
It means being willing to lock arms with people with whom we disagree for the sake of love without compromising our convictions or feeling responsible to change their minds.
It means a warm meal, a soft word, a high five, an offer to help, and an unwavering willingness to be rejected.
Sometimes it means listening before we speak and other times it means speaking up with confidence and facing the consequences, however uncomfortable they might be.
It always means being aware of the presence of Jesus in every moment.
I’m learning what that means for me as a woman, as a mother, as a citizen of the United States, and as a human in the world.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8, ESV
I’m honored to share this sponsored post in glad partnership with Tyndale House. This book has brought clarity for me in areas where I’ve often only seen fog. For that I am grateful.