Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Random Acts of Kindness...Make me Think, at Least

Today we were the recipients of what in today's vernacular would be called a "random act of kindness." Lately I've been reading the Beverly Cleary books to Tim in our homeschooling (not that they're terribly educational. I do think, though, that they show him what life was like in the '60s when I was growing up--amazingly different in some ways from today, and amazingly similar in others). In one of the books, the family goes out for dinner at the Whopperburger restaurant. It's been a horrible day and a grouchy night, and they're glad to be at their favorite restaurant rather than facing their crock pot that hadn't been turned on that morning. The heroine, Ramona, makes an impression on a lonely older man, who pays for the family's dinner out and leaves before they can thank him.
Well, tonight I thought of that book, because we were celebrating a family event tonight. We went to Olive Garden, partially because my mom had sent a gift card at Christmas. We hardly ever go out to eat, at least at a sit-down restaurant--I'd usually rather eat at home--but maybe once or twice a year we do. While we were waiting for our table, Gary was talking to the young lady sitting next to us about sports. She was young, a new mother, and her husband was using the waiting time to go out and buy a diaper genie. Gary told her all about our family event (though I had asked him to keep quiet about it--it mortifies me when he does that), and she wished us happiness as they left to go to their table. And just so you don't wonder, I'm not pregnant. Whew! Glad I thought to clarify that.
We had our dinner, and the waitress was friendly and good at what she did. At another table, the staff crowded around and sang their version of Happy Birthday (the original of which chain restaurants do not use--it happens to still be copyrighted, we found when Katie worked at Red Robin). I told Gary that I really didn't want...well, I think the fact will come out in the telling, I don't know how to blur it better and still get the point of this post out...well, I didn't want them crowding around our table in similar style. We recognized a woman who came in with her daughter and sat at the table behind us. He told her...that it was my birthday. She was about the 8th person he had pointed that out to today; I should just get used to it, I guess! After all, most of the world already knew by the time we'd left the restaurant.
The waitress came from somewhere unseen, and wished me a happy birthday. I asked Gary if he had told her, but I think she'd overheard him during one of his many overexuberant conversations. I told her I'd just like to pass on the dessert and attention, but she ignored me. I was pretty sure she had heard me, but she didn't say anything. She just went away, and came back with an entourage of highly enthused, no, laboriously willing participants (one even joked that she'd have to pay him) to sing me their little ditty. And, they brought a cake, which seemed enormous as a birthday favor--enough to serve at least four and more like six people easily. Especially after an Italian dinner. I thanked them, and I was sincerely impressed. Wow, what a cake. After the hubbub died down, she told me that the cake was a gift from the couple we'd met while waiting for our table. They had already left by the time I knew they had given it.
I have to wonder at this. I'm pretty sure they weren't believers; not sure why I think this--we didn't give them any more impression than they did regarding such things, I realize looking back. It seems that it might have been motivated by the idea of the "random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty" that started swirling in the public consciousness not too many years ago. I still don't know what would motivate someone to do this, apart from faith, or maybe the idea of "what goes around, comes around." Though still, I realize unbelievers can seem kind, can exhibit what would seem like a fruit of the Spirit, in such a way that it would seem to put anything I do to shame and make me wonder what is the matter that I don't do such things at random.
We discussed it on the way home. I was saying that when I do what I perceive as kindnesses, I do them in far more measured ways--I tend to do them to encourage someone who needs encouragement, to help someone who needs help, to lift someone in some way when something has knocked them down. I rarely spend time doing kindnesses to people who don't seem to need them. And I have to wonder, which way is better? God loves a cheerful, hilarious, extravagant giver. He loves for us to help the downtrodden. He wants us to be good stewards. He also doesn't play favorites, so I suppose in that way He would want us to show kindnesses to everyone. How much would He want us to buy birthday cakes for people who probably don't need them? (I'd already received two--one from Gary, bought at the store, and one from our neighbor Stacia, home-made.) Yet it seems like a sweet act. I just have a hard time evaluating all these seemingly conflicting standards.
I would like to become more unthinking, more extravagant, more exuberant, more knee-jerk in my kindnesses, more forthcoming in that fruit of the Spirit. I don't want to be foolish, I don't want to be a bad steward, but I would like to just exhibit God's abundant, loving, joyful goodness. I know that if it's from Him, He will replenish what we give out, providing it into our lives and letting us channel it out to people. We are His vessels, His servants, and if He wants it done, He will give the means to do it--the one difference I can think of is that we should do it to His glory--somehow let it be known that it is His doing:

Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER."
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God.
For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. --2 Corinthians 9:6-12.
I love that passage! Yet I'm sure that I can forget its message within the hour. Perhaps I need to read it every day. It illustrates that stewardship can be more a matter of giving forth rather than measuring out; pouring out rather than doling out. I like that. If we err in our kindnesses, it's probably better to err on the side of foolishly giving something that wasn't too badly needed rather than foolishly withholding something for fear of wastefulness.
It may be a rather sad thing that I have something to learn about God from someone who might not even know Him. All the more, I hope that it is a lesson well-learned.

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