A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘kindness

How quickly things can change. At one moment, a day can seem dull and grey—and then the sun breaks through the clouds. Or we notice the daffodils starting to bloom in the garden.

Or maybe one simple gesture lifts our mood: someone holds the door when we’re carrying an awkward package, a loved one or friend phones when we’re down, or our spouse gives us a much-needed hug.

Are we doing our part to lift someone else’s mood?

Sometimes we forget that it’s not all about us—that others have their struggles and challenges and need an encouraging word, a helping hand, or a kind gesture just as much as we do.

One parishioner at my church used to say that her ministry was giving hugs. Not only did she give a lot of hugs, she also made a lot of people feel welcomed and valued.

What could our own ministry look like?

  • hugs for our spouse before and after work
  • encouraging words for our children as they start their homework
  • genuine thanks for any store clerks or customer service reps we interact with during the day
  • positive reviews on social media of music, books or movies we enjoyed
  • text messages or e-mails to someone who’s in our thoughts

The gesture doesn’t have to be grand to be meaningful; it just needs to be timely. In my experience, saying thank you in some way at the time someone helps us is worth more than a big gift later. It’s better to catch our children in the act of being good and comment when we notice. And it’s more generous to offer that hug than wait to be asked for one. We all like to feel that we and our efforts are appreciated, even if we’re no longer children looking for a gold star on our work.

Instead of waiting for someone else to raise our spirits on a rough day, I pray that we would regularly make a point of doing those little things that might just help someone else get through the day.

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I downloaded a meditation app to my MP3 player on the weekend. After I followed the first few steps, the app recommended a guided meditation on kindness.

During the meditation, you’re encouraged to think kind thoughts about someone you know and like—and, eventually, to apply these feelings to someone you don’t like. It reminded me of something Jesus said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”

~ Matthew 5:43-45*

We pray for those we love, whether on our own or during the prayers of the faithful at Mass: friends and loved ones who are struggling owing to illness or job loss or who have passed away, Christians at home and abroad who are persecuted, and priests and religious, to name a few.

But how often do we pray for those who annoy or upset us: the neighbour who throws loud parties, the colleague who doesn’t take on a fair share of the workload, the relative who reminds us of our embarrassing mistakes?

How about those who hurt us with unkind or thoughtless comments, or those who dislike us simply because of our ethnic background, our financial situation, or our faith?

We may not think of these people as enemies, but we probably don’t think of them as neighbours, either. We need to ask ourselves whether we keep these words in mind:

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason with your neighbor, lest you bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

~ Leviticus 19:17-18

When we take the time to pray for our families, our friends, and even ourselves, we could take a moment to pray that God would bless these neighbours.

“But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

~ Luke 6:35-36

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

“Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness.”

~ John Wesley, in his sermon “On Dress,” quoted in “Cleanliness is next to Godliness”: The Talmudic Source

Those who have read my posts before know I like bringing order to chaos, like the Borg of Star Trek fame. I like to have a place for everything and everything in its place. And I like to have a clean house.

cleaning supplies

Some of my cleaning supplies…

And so I read with interest today’s quote in the “Quiet moments, daily inspiration, feasts, and fun for November” article in the current issue of Catholic Digest:

“Compassion, my dear Brother, is preferable to cleanliness. Reflect that with a little soap I can easily clean my bed covers, but even with a torrent of tears I would never wash from my soul the stain that my harshness toward the unfortunate would create.”

In a culture perhaps more concerned about sanitizing surfaces and keeping everything smelling fresh than about showing compassion, this quote from St. Martin de Porres should strike a chord with us.

We see and hear so much tragic news that we can harden our hearts, purposefully or not, to protect ourselves from being saddened by it. Thinking that there’s nothing we as individuals can do, how often do we fail to show compassion on even a small scale? How often do we hesitate to get involved?

I recently read in Sirach 17:22* that “A man’s almsgiving is like a signet with the Lord, and he will keep a person’s kindness like the apple of his eye.”

Could we let down our guard for a little while to extend kindness to someone else?

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Offer our condolences to and check in from time to time with a friend or family member in mourning.
  • Go through our family’s winter clothes to see if we have any items to donate to charity.
  • Volunteer to serve as an in-school tutor or a friendly visitor at a retirement residence.
  • Make and carry out a plan for charitable giving at home or in the workplace.
  • Pray for the faithful departed during this month dedicated to the souls in purgatory.

I pray that we would remember God’s compassion toward us and want to extend that same compassion to others.

He has showed 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

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Here we are on March 10th, and for those of us in the Ottawa area, the ground is nowhere in sight. Although the brown grass should be peeking through the snow by now, Old Man Winter is hanging on and may even bring us more snow.

As much as I love winter, even I’ve had enough of snow and long for an end to boots-and-gloves weather. I look forward to seeing the grass green up and flower stems emerge, and I enjoy poring over my bulb catalogues and envisioning my garden in the spring. So this post title isn’t as strange as it might seem at first glance.

Only I’m not talking about a garden of flowers, but instead the one mentioned in Sirach 40:17:

Kindness is like a garden of blessings,

and almsgiving endures forever.

Charitable giving goes hand in hand with prayer and fasting during Lent, but it’s never out of season. Neither is kindness.

But if we still need a nudge to make more of an effort to give more and be kinder, I recently read in livehappy magazine that March 20th is the International Day of Happiness, first declared by the United Nations in 2012. We could make a point that day of offering a kind word or a small gesture to brighten someone else’s day.

While we may never know the difference that word or gesture makes in that person’s day or life, we do know that God wants us to show his love to our neighbours and that our acts of giving to others also bless us.

And so I pray that we would consider the ways we can extend kindness and give to others—not only on the International Day of Happiness, and not only during Lent, but also going forward.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.

~ Plato, quoted in The Power of Giving by Azim Jamal and Harvey McKinnon

Choose to be kind.

That’s the message Kind Ottawa would like us to live out and the focus of Kindness Week, which runs from February 14th to February 21st.

I would love to see more people making that choice. Because the choice not to be kind is made far too often, as these examples I’ve witnessed show:

  • A woman who has been working very hard to make confirmation classes happen in our parish was on the receiving end of a long, complaining e-mail and a ranting phone call.
  • A patient berated a dental office receptionist while she remained calm and patiently tried to explain to him the process for submitting a claim.
  • At a local department store, customers left their carts all over the parking lot instead of taking them to the nearby cart return—which meant that a store employee had to go all over the lot on a bitterly cold day to collect them.

What does it cost us to take a moment to thank people for their hard work, to put things where they belong in order to save someone else some effort, to offer a word of encouragement or help in learning a skill? These are the things that leave a positive mark on someone’s day—or even their life.

I still remember the way a teacher helped me learn borrowing in subtraction on her time, some high school friends collected homework for me when I had my wisdom teeth removed, a university classmate walked me home at night out of concern for my safety, and a friend tried to help me find a job when I moved to a new city.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” Proverbs 18:21 tells us. So why not choose to make our words and acts ones that bring life? Why not thank, encourage and support others in what we say and do?

I pray that we would be inspired to try a little kindness this week and every week, remembering to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).

(Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

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On Monday, I still had a Christmas tree in my family room and decorations waiting to go into storage. So you may imagine that, less than two weeks after Christmas, I was surprised to see not only Valentine’s Day greetings and candy in the stores but also Easter treats.

Yep. Marshmallow Peeps and chocolate bunnies. I don’t know if I should chalk it up to a plan to boost spending in January or someone’s wistful thoughts of spring amid all this ice, snow and bitter cold.

I love winter, but as someone who gardens, a corner of my mind is thinking of spring. Especially since I received an e-mail notice that the next Botanus catalogue is online, full of beautiful photos of new plant varieties and old favourites. But even in winter, I can be a gardener, if I take a hint from this quote I read in the January/February issue of Catholic Digest:

A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

~ St. Basil

Sow courtesy? Like so many who note the decline of good manners, I’m happy to hold open doors, reach items for others in the grocery store (if I can, since I’m not all that tall), or tell a busy and flustered cashier I can wait even though I’m not the most patient person. Although a smile or “thank you” is the most I’d hope to reap.

Plant kindness? That’s something I’d truly like to see more often—and do more often. Those moments when people have been particularly kind to me have stayed with me through the years: the time a school librarian offered to review my poetry and give me advice, students invited the “new kid” to sit with them at lunch, a professor recommended me for a work term, and vet clinic staff sent sympathy cards when my beloved pets passed away, to name just a few examples.

Maybe we could take a moment to sow courtesy and plant kindness among the people we meet in the course of our day—including our family. Thanking a helpful salesperson or pleasant barista, treating a co-worker to coffee on a cold morning, giving a neighbour a ride to the bus station, or dropping off our spouse’s dry cleaning may be small acts of courtesy or kindness, but we can’t know what they may mean to someone else at that moment.

And we may not reap friendship or love, but we’ll surely reap just a bit of joy.

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, quoted in The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Edition

Canadians have a reputation for being polite, and we like to think that ours is a kind and gentle society. But is it really all that kind and gentle?

We don’t have to go back to the demolition of Africville to find examples of racism. I’ve personally heard people make snide comments about members of various ethnic groups, even if they don’t use the racial slurs once so common.

And over the past couple of years, teen suicides have been in the news. Some of these kids—including a friend of my son—were victims of bullying.

These types of intolerant behaviour don’t fit our image of Canadian society. So what can we do to help bring our reality and the ideal closer together?

Here in Ottawa, we’re nearing the end of Kindness Week, which was created by Rabbi Reuven Bulka and is now in its sixth year. As the Kindness Week website points out, by being kind—giving, volunteering, saying thanks, celebrating kindness, and paying it forward—you can make a difference in someone else’s life and be happier yourself.

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The goal: for people to make kindness an everyday habit. So it becomes natural to hold the store door open for a parent with a stroller or to help someone reach an item on a high shelf at the grocery store. Simple actions such as these tell the person, “I notice you.” And when much of our human contact comes through text messages, e-mail and voice mail, isn’t that what we all need sometimes—to be noticed? Read the rest of this entry »


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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