I can’t see this being a super long post because this is a lesson that is definitely an on-going one for me (not that the others haven’t been, but just that I can feel God is wanting to draw this one out!)
Growing up, I always tried my best to be kind. By kind, I mean I tried to make everyone else happy and make sure that those around me were smiling and comfortable – I was known as the peacekeeper in my various groups of friends as I got older because I always tried to calm things down if feathers got a bit ruffled, or I was overly placatory towards everyone else. I was good at putting my happiness second because what really mattered to me was putting everyone around me first.
Anyone else relate to this?
But as I got older, and as I officially became an adult, it was my onset of depression that changed this for me. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be the peacekeeper, or the one who makes others happy for the sake of myself, but I was just too tired to do this and to keep this up all the time. It felt like I was incapable of being happy (maybe because I’d spent so much time suppressing my own feelings for the sake of others) so I just had to give up on everyone else for a little while. And as it happens, the rest of world didn’t lose touch with joy when I stopped trying to force it on them. If anything, they just carried on smiling and floating past me on a cloud of happiness, while it felt like I was sitting out in the rain.
Fast forward to university, with loads of new friends to make and plenty of social circles to please. I said recently to a group of people that I’m someone who can definitely be described as busy, and I think part of that was down to this innate need of mine to always be the one to make other people happy. As I got better, I found that this niggling desire for making others happy – or being selfless, as I thought of it as – got stronger as I did. It is only recently that I’ve realised that this part of me needed and still needs some serious healing.
Over the last three years I’ve undertaken projects and friendships and various bits and pieces whilst being at university. Some of them right for me, and some of them not. I look back now as a third year getting ready to leave and I realise that it is so true – just because you think you could serve God in a certain area, definitely doesn’t mean that you should.
When contemplating this, I was reminded of Naomi who features quite prominently in the book of Ruth. You know the one, Naomi is the moany old lady who’s situation is pretty pants to be honest, she blames God for her loss and tries to convince those around her to go away. Ruth, her daughter in law, stays and takes care of her. But at the beginning, Naomi is having none of it. In fact, she tells Ruth to call her something else:
“Don’t call me Naomi”, she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me” (Ruth 1:20-21 NIV)
In my last year of university, I have been a Mara. In fact, I should have got everyone else to start calling me Mara too. On my 21st birthday I think the number on my cake and cards was wrong – I wasn’t 21, more like 91 and just so fed up with the world. It felt like so many things had gone wrong, or so many things just weren’t right – I had a lot of hurt and upset and sometimes awkward Annie aggression (so basically when I cry a lot, lol #fightme) would come out. It felt like I was trying so hard to do things and to please people – to get the approval of others either by doing too much, or suppressing my feelings and hurt in the process. It’s tiring being so miserable. Not in the way that depression is tiring, this was different. I was bitter.
Mara means bitter, as it goes. In Hebrew tradition, names mean everything. If you look back from Adam (meaning ‘humankind’ or ‘mankind’) right through to Jesus (meaning ‘Saviour’), it’s always been there. Naomi changing her name to Mara isn’t just a joke she made or a point of showing how miserable she was, it was a change of state.
Being kind became a chore to me. Blame came all too easy to me. If it wasn’t God I was blaming, it was other people around me. It was never my fault that I got upset, always someone else. Does anyone else relate to this? (I flipping hope so because otherwise I look like a horrendous human being!)
Being kind just became too difficult. I wasn’t outright nasty to anybody, but the little Annie who grew up trying to make everyone happy just wasn’t playing ball anymore. Selflessness became selfishness – and it was only when I gave a talk a few weeks ago and I said that sometimes we can learn things about ourselves from difficult people or situations that I started to really see that in my own life. Funny how God works like that, eh?
Anyway. I’ve always had a bit of a problem when people say that we do nice things for others to make ourselves feel better. I think that’s what’s know as altruism, or at least a selfish selflessness. What I was doing when I was growing up wasn’t healthy, and neither is my recent habit of avoiding kindness altogether. I think, though, that we are called to be kind. Paul, in his second letter to Timothy, says this:
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (2 Timothy 2:24 NIV)
The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome and must be kind – and not resentful? Well, I guess I should just throw the towel in now. Thankfully God’s grace is bigger than that. When I said earlier that some things we feel we could be called but probably shouldn’t be – I didn’t mean kindness. We are all called to kindness. And, as kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit (check out Galatians 5:22 if you don’t believe me), I think that means that being deliberately kind leaves God the space to transform you.Through the kindness of Ruth, Boaz and good old God, Naomi’s name does change. The book of Ruth ends with Naomi happier and more joyful than the start – she isn’t bitter anymore. Kindness is transformative because the Holy Spirit is transformative. Make sense? (I hope so).
So if I’m kind to you in any big or small way in the next few days, it’s meant from a genuine place. It’s not from a selfish place of change, or a means of making the world happy – it’s responding to that call of kindness. I don’t want to be called Mara, I want to be Annie – I want the name God gave me, I want to be transformed. I’m sorry if I have been unkind, deliberately or otherwise, and mostly I’m sorry to God for getting it not quite right all the time.
Peace and blessings x