In families where tensions exist owing to an estrangement of one or more members from the Faith, we often try to cloak special occasions and even ordinary conversation in the false peace of manners. “Please” and “thank you” and conversations that touch only on the safest of subjects project the veneer of domestic tranquility. If the talk strays even a little, however, explosions occur.
Being truly kind requires bravery. Kindness is truth delivered with mercy; service freely given. We cannot be witnesses to our Faith if we fear rejection, nor are we to go about using our Faith like a battering ram. Be unfailingly kind on all occasions, to all people, and you will reveal to your prodigal an uncompromising principle of love. That’s the goal. The rule is to avoid being either the fire starter or the fanner of flames. You must be a source of peace, even when it might be your heart’s desire to fight, to push back, or to argue.
Nothing undermines witness like losing one’s temper. Such firestorms strip all prior acts of gentleness of their true intent in the eyes of the other person. Any kindness now seems deliberate and manipulative, designed to win the person over with niceness. We know we cannot manipulate if we are to love. We also cannot even appear to manipulate if our love is to be perceived. Understand that the false peace created through manners merely creates an artificial veneer, an illusion that everything is fine. When a family is struggling with a prodigal, everyone knows that everything is not fine — especially the prodigal.
When your prodigal is visiting, include him or her in the ordinary. Your prodigal is not a special guest who must be catered to but someone you love and who presumably loves you. So be real. Invite him or her to help with the planning of the dinner or the dishes or to watch a movie with you afterward. Keeping your loved one at safe or pre-arranged distances at all times will not facilitate either your relationship with your loved one or his or her relationship with God.
At the table, the silence of whatever it is that is not being discussed is not peaceful. It’s a high-tension, emotional tightrope that will make all your family members hold their breath, hoping just to get through the meal. Talk about memories, about fun things. Ask questions that encourage a free exchange of ideas without necessarily jumping to core issues, allowing all the family to participate. Ask for ideas for movies, for activities for the next day or for the summer. This will be a reminder for you and your child that you can relate to each other despite differences, because love and trust are built on joy, on shared experiences, and on hearing what the other has to say. The core issues remain, yes, but the goal in this circumstance is to deepen your relationship with each other, and that can happen through little things done with great love.
One of my most painful moments (when I didn’t get a job I had been hoping for) turned into a beautiful treasure when my prodigal took me for a walk to let me weep and to remind me that I’m still blessed, even suggesting, despite professed unbelief, that I pray. That was truly a gift, and it would never have happened if I had triumphed. Real life lived with those you love, whether they believe or not, may lead you to a deeper faith when you least expect it and reveal something of theirs in the process.
Manners are not kindness; they are nice. Kindness is an offering of the self. Niceness is a cloaking of feelings beneath civility, protocol, and etiquette. We’re called to be kind, not nice. So above all, in all things, be kind. It’s the best witness. It’s the honest witness that will win hearts, and, in fact, it’s the only way to witness.
Art for this post on Kindness: Cover and featured image used with permission.