“We can’t control what’s going on, but we can keep choosing kindness.”
I’ve been thinking about this quote quite a bit in the last few months. I originally bought the sign pictured above to put next to a couple of more obviously political signs. Those signs are gone, but this one remains. As I’ve reflected upon it, I’ve come to realize this was the most political sign I had in my yard. This is a far more radical statement than the name of some politician or another.
“We can’t control what’s going on”
A realization that we are not in control is key to a life of spiritual growth. Whether one believes in free will, predestination, or a blending of the two, one still must accept how little control we have over the events in our lives. Even the most powerful individuals in the world find themselves unable to truly control what happens around, and to, them. That is part of what Jesus is telling us in Luke 12:22-26:
22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?
Coming to a place of accepting how little we control is very freeing. If we, as individuals, can’t control the spread of COVID-19, armed insurrection, or systemic racism, then we are, paradoxically both freed from worry about those things, and free to more clearly see the impactful choices we have available to us.
This is not, of course, an abdication of responsibility. We are responsible for our choices, which brings us to the next part of this quote.
“But we can keep choosing kindness”
Of all of the things we can choose, kindness is one of the most radical. As Paul tells us in his beautiful meditation on love in 1 Corinthians 13 kindness is a key component of love. Kindness is also one of the fruits of the spirit listed in Galatians 5. Kindness has the ability to transform relationships, and through them, people. Kindness isn’t mere niceness, either. Niceness, to my mind, is about simple pleasantries. Kindness is deeper. It’s about being warm-hearted, compassionate and, ultimately, seeing the shared humanity of another person. When we are kind to each other, we subvert the tribalism that is tearing us, in the US at least, apart. This doesn’t fix anything over night, but it begins to rebuilt the ties that bind us.
Proverbs 11:17 tells us “Those who are kind reward themselves, but the cruel do themselves harm,” and as we “are all one in Christ Jesus”, when we are kind everyone is rewarded. And its a reward with a positive feedback loop, which is why we say “kindness begets kindness”.
Now, I’m not going to pretend this is easy to implement. I’ve thought some pretty unkind thoughts in the last week. It is difficult for me to imagine being kind to the people who defiled the Capitol. But I can be kind to my neighbors who have very different political beliefs than mine.
I can also be kind to people in my online interactions. I can read their statements generously, and I can refuse to post the more cutting statements that come to mind. I can work to have a dialog even when trolling might feel more fun in the moment. Or I can put down my phone and take a walk, which might be the better thing for me overall.
Spiritual practices can help open us up to the Spirit and give us the ability to choose kindness, so we need to do the work ahead of time to give ourselves the opportunity. We can also recognize when we don’t have the ability to choose kindness and choose to walk away or choose silence. Silence is far kinder than choosing to be cruel.
I hope you are well, readers. And may we all have the ability to recognize we can’t control what is going on, but we can choose kindness. Grace and Peace to you all.
Bart Hennigan has a Master of Public and International Affairs degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He is currently in year three of Sewanne's Education for Ministry and is pursuing certification as a spiritual director through the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. When not reading or discussing philosophy and theology, Bart is a stay-at-home father of three, which has taught him much about patience and the importance of silence.