“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:31
Be kind to one another, Paul tells us. Be tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God has forgiven us.
In short, we are to make good on what God expects of us as recorded in Micah 6:8. That is, to love kindness.
Why is loving kindness such a hardship for us?
For one thing, bitterness, wrath and anger seem to be so easily accessible to us. The passion and anger that seem to be the subtext behind today's headlines feel visceral and reactive. Our collective response to world events and circumstances reminds me of a rattlesnake that has gotten spooked on the trail by incoming hikers. Upon sensing the hikers’ presence, the snake coils and is prepared to attack.
There is an old revolutionary war flag that illustrates this well. Beneath a coiled rattlesnake on an alarmingly yellow background reads a not-so-subtle message (in all caps, I might add): “DON’T TREAD ON ME.” You’ve probably seen it. In fact, you’ve probably seen it flying with much greater regularity these last few years.
How did we become so reptilian; that is, so ready to strike? What was it that made us feel so threatened and afraid? What do we fear that we will lose?
Our fists are clenched and our posture is defensive. Everything about us says, “Back off.”
And yet, God calls us to love kindness. Here’s the rub, however: we cannot love kindness with clenched fists. To love kindness means that we live with hands open to the world around us. Obviously, that will require us to live vulnerable to attack, and prone to loss. Many of us don’t think it’s worth it, and we hold tightly to that which we think might get taken from us.
Not too long ago, my family and I spent a lovely day at Carowinds theme park in Charlotte. Our increasingly fearless son, Zeb, wanted to take on the fiercest and most terrifying rides in the park. His mother made it abundantly clear that she would not accompany him on the thrill rides. I dug deep, recalling my own now more nascent love of thrill rides, and told him I was game for whatever the park would throw at us. So, we decided to board the Fury 325.
The Fury 325 is the highest and fastest rollercoaster of its kind in the world. The number 325 alludes to its height in feet. The name, “Fury,” is descriptive of the speeds that the coaster reaches.
Let me be clear. Zeb was brave. I was acting like I was brave.
We were loaded onto the coaster and secured into our seats. The incline was terrifying and I chose to distract myself. The man beside us, it turned out, had been on the Fury 325 many times and gave us some absurd advice: “Put your hands up.”
“Not likely,” I thought, as I gripped the lap bar more dearly. I was going to hold on tightly so as not to fall to an excruciating death.
The coaster clicked and clacked itself to the top and we prepared for that initial, sickening drop. Since we were seated toward the back of the train, we could feel the pull of the front cars as they began their rapid descent.
I held on. Firmly. White knuckles and all.
But it did me no good. I came up out of the seat and I felt the unmistakable sensation of weightlessness. We rocketed down, endlessly it would seem, until it occurred to me: my fierce grip to remain in the car wasn't doing me any good. Although I was holding on with all my life, my clenched hands on the lap bar were not securing me to the coaster. No, the lap bar was holding me tight and I felt strangely secure knowing that I might survive the ride after all.
So, I lifted my hands in the air and allowed the ride to take me.
And take me it did—slicing left and right, dropping down to the crowds below and then flying immediately to the clouds above. I had given myself to the ride, trusting that I was being held in place by the safety features. And since I had surrendered myself to the Fury 325, I was able to enjoy it far more than if I had held on for dear life.
Loving kindness means living a life with our hands held above us with our palms wide open. We cannot love if we are holding on for dear life. We cannot love kindness and reach out to those arounds us if we are fearful that we will not survive; that we will get thrown off the rails. As people of faith, we are given God’s assurance that He’s holding on to us so that we don’t have to try to do it ourselves. And when we do, when we do relinquish our grip, we are able to live openly, unafraid, and without defensiveness. By trusting that God has a firm hold of us, we can open ourselves to others, leaning out over the rails to hold hands with the Other, loving kindness in ways that look like Christ.
Jesus invited Peter to walk out on the water with him. Who knew that Jesus would invite me to learn a lesson about faith and loving kindness on the Fury 325?