Article Apr 16, 2015

Mr. Rogers and the importance of Christian kindness

I am an inherently critical person. I criticize myself. I criticize my friends. I criticize the weather. I criticize people on the Internet. I’m the Roger Ebert of life in general.

The nicest fake neighbor I ever had

A few weeks ago, it was Fred Rogers’ 87th birthday. Well, it would have been, but Mr. Rogers died in 2003. Social media was abuzz with memories of the beloved television neighbor. I shared a video of Mr. Rogers accepting a Daytime Emmy in 1997 and a video of a younger Fred Rogers asking Congress to not cut the funding allotted for public broadcasting. I was watching these videos last week, and I was reminded of Mr. Rogers’ profound effect on my life. Somewhere between episodes of Full House, Boy Meets World, and Pappy Drew It, Mr. Rogers became the neighbor I never really had.

It got me thinking about what made Mr. Rogers truly unique: his kindness. Obviously, I never knew the guy personally, so I can’t speak to his kindness in real life or his Christian faith (though he did go to seminary with R.C. Sproul and was a Presbyterian minister for a time). But, I get the sense Fred Rogers was a genuinely kind, good-natured person.

What would it look like if Christians treated their real neighbors with as much kindness as Mr. Rogers treated his fake ones? I know it’s kitschy, but just think about it. If the testimony before the Congressional committee did nothing else, it should have at least showed you that Fred Rogers genuinely cared about people.

Christ calls us to sacrificial kindness

Like I said at the beginning, I’m an inherently critical person, both of myself and of others. Thankfully, in Christ, I’ve been getting better at being genuinely kind. Jesus says:

“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.” (Matt. 5:43-44)

“‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” (Matt. 22:36-40)

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

I’ve always been faithful in my walk with Christ about two things: 1. learning about the nature and character of God, and 2. learning what is and is not acceptable as a Christian. I try hard at both of those things, and while that’s good and right, it can be problematic.

Criticism is easy. Kindness is hard.

Proclaiming the law of God without showing the love of God makes you more like the people that killed Jesus than the people that follow him.Tragically, I fall short when it comes to learning what it means to share the grace I’ve been shown with others. When I was in high school, and even in college here and there, I could be a downright emotional (not physical) bully.

Thankfully, the Lord has worked hard in my heart to convict me of that and show me the importance of kindness. I’m not great at it yet, but through waiting tables at my high school/college job and watching Twitter at my current job, I’ve seen the lack of kindness and the need for Christians to fill the void. For too long, I’ve been unwilling to fill the void, but by the grace of God, I’m finally starting to give up loving myself a bit for the sake of loving others.

What does kindness look like?

That’s a tough question to answer, isn’t it? Kindness can take so many forms. Here are a few simple, practical ways I try to practice kindness. Try some of them:

  • Send an encouraging text to a friend to remind them you’re thinking of them.
  • Ask your co-workers how you can make their jobs easier.
  • Ask your spouse, or roommate(s), what you can do to help around the house more.
  • Tip well, even if your service is awful. The person may just be having a bad day.
  • Ask how people are doing. Genuinely ask, like you care, because you should.
  • Have friends and neighbors over for dinner.
  • Babysit friends’ kids for free just to give a couple a night off.

I’m no mass evangelist, but in my interactions with some of my non-Christian or skeptical-Christian friends, kindness really goes a long way. In today’s world of Internet (and real-world) trolls, there’s just too much hate going around. It’s truly refreshing to see others being kind. Kindness and love must set us apart. Jesus says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Criticism feeds off of our pride; kindness costs us our pride. Criticism is cheap; kindness is expensive. Are you willing to pay up?