This guest blog is by Peter Dray
My friend Krish and his wife Miriam are foster parents. Krish tells of how, one day, the phone rang, requesting a placement. “Do you have space for a three-year-old?” they were asked. “Parents have gone AWOL. We don’t know much about him, but apparently he’s a biter. Are you okay with that?”
On hearing this, Krish winced. Not just at the imagined pain of being bitten – but because of the label placed on the child. A whole life was boiled down to a single negative word: biter.
This episode encapsulates the harshness typifying aspects of society today. Politicians are judged not on the basis of policy, but on trivia. Celebrities are publicly shamed for their sins. As in the case of the three-year-old boy, one word judgements are issued without any understanding of a person’s broader story.
Those of us who’ve felt labelled in this way know how devastating it can be upon our mental health. It’s not necessarily that people are saying things that are entirely untrue; it’s that our worst characteristics are being singled out to be the final word.
Even when these comments are made in jest, they sting.
Our capacity for this kind of hurt indicates our universal need to know kindness and mercy – to know love, welcome and a future, even when we’ve publicly fallen short.
My younger son is called Toby, which means ‘The Lord is kind.’ My wife and I chose this name because we’ve come to know exactly this kindness and mercy from the living God revealed by Jesus. Time and again, Jesus refused to treat people by their worst moments or characteristics. Jesus shows that God has a bent towards mercy and kindness. As one of my favourite Bible verses puts it, ‘God does not treat us as our sins deserve.’
He might have pointed out all of the ways I have fallen short – and left me in my condemnation. Instead, though he knows the cost of my failure better than anyone, he chose to take its consequences upon himself, dying a shameful death my place.
God chose to show me kindness. He no longer defines me by my worstTweet
Because kindness characterises the heart of God, kindness is written into the fabric of reality. Society thrives when we show one another kindness. Justice must be done, but justice never excuses shaming people because we perceive ugliness in them. One beautiful Bible verse says that love ‘always hopes.’
Miriam and Krish modelled this in the way they related to their foster child. “I was not OK with looking after a child known as a ‘biter’,” Krish later wrote. “If something so terrible has happened to him that he feels he has no choice but to respond by biting, then I would do everything in my power to look after him and help him lose the label.” Just imagine the effect of this attitude on this child’s perception of his self-worth.
Knowing the kindness of God also allows us to be kind to ourselves. Lockdown may have shown us new things about ourselves. Many of these new discoveries may not have been pretty. Yet to someone with perfectionist tendencies and who has struggled with body image issues through life like me, God’s kindness allows me to gradually silence the inner critic. I’m accepted, I’m welcomed, I’m loved – at great cost.
Kindness will be especially important in the coming weeks: as lockdown shortens our fuses, as we make different choices around our children’s education and ‘the new normal’, and as we continue to break our own resolutions for lockdown life.Tweet
Our temptation will always be to judge – to write off ourselves and others – but, even when we’re sure we’re our judgement is right, let’s choose instead to extend kindness.
As we do so, we echo the heart of the living God.
Peter Dray is married to Linda and has two sons, Samuel and Toby. They live in Leeds, and watching live sport and getting outside. Peter works for UCCF, the British university Christian Union movement, but is currently on furlough.