My own journey has been a little different and Nice has been a necessary step, but only because my starting place was Mean. My father*, manipulative, mean-hearted, controlling, and critical, raised me to be a carbon copy of himself in my thinking and attitudes. Until I was rescued from his control, my basic operating system was Mean, Condescending, and Hurtful.
Rescued at something like 10 years old, it took many years away from his influence before I began to have an inkling that things were wrong. I was Mean, even towards my rescuers. My inkling was no stronger than knowing that there were some people in my life that I really liked and admired who were different from all I knew and I knew that they were different somehow in ways I could not comprehend.
It was not until I was in residential treatment at Charter Hospital my freshman year in high school that a group-therapy leader named Darrel finally got through to me. He was one of those different people and I think it took my first admiring him, for the crisis event that soon followed to have an impact on my arrogant, legalistic, selfish, condescending, and mean heart. Indeed it took that admiration for there to be a Crisis Event at all.
In a group therapy session, I was being my usual charming argumentative combative condescending-self when Darrel braked hard and brought the conversation to a screeching halt and said, “You know something Christian? I just realized. You really ARE an A**hole.” When I got back to my room after the expected tantrum of “You can’t say that to me!” had run its course, the crisis began and it left me broken and floored.
I thank God for putting Darrel, and another person who’s kind heart and love for God has saved my life over and over the past couple of decades, Bart Larson, Chaplain, Photographer and Artist and at the time Chaplain for the adolescent unit at Charter Hospital. (This next to the author of the blog post I reblogged) [You’ve likely seen his name on the pictures that used to line the walls at Life Spring and still do at Valley View.] He counseled me then. He rescued me from demonic spiritual attack. He counselled me after. He did our premarital counseling. He tag-teamed our wedding with Pastor John Drage of The Rock. He helped us through miscarriage and pain and 6+ years of failing to re-conceive and my lost beloved’s health issues with PCOS, autoimmune nightmares and celiac disease. He helped us as our marriage fell apart and helped me after she left and kept me from ending my life many times as I grieved and grieved. He even helped me fix things and professionally paint our marriage home to get it ready for forced sale from the divorce. All quietly and kindly and unassuming. He has never stopped helping me and pouring out to me God’s kindness (modeling it to me).
Along the long road from Mean to where I am now, which on good days, is leagues and leagues down the path towards Kindness, there was a necessary intermediary step, or rather whole long section of the path. Niceness. It started clumsily and ineptly and most especially, deliberately. I didn’t understand Kindness, I only knew the effects of kindness, upon me, from others. I had to make very conscious deliberate decisions to ‘Be Nice’ where all my life my BIOS, my Firmware, my autopilot had been ‘Be Mean’.
Good days. Bad days. Good encounters. Bad encounters. Starting with far more bad than good until finally the bad became ‘the old man’ who stayed buried most of the time. He’s still not dead, but he’s not enjoying the sunshine and fresh air any longer and the guard I’ve set on his prison is usually very diligent.
Being Nice opened me up to being able to learn and come to a deep and intuitive understanding of the kindness of these people in my life, and through them, the kindness of Christ who ruled their lives. It gave me feelings of success (and self-forgiveness/grace/acceptance) instead of self-loathing, and encouraged me to keep fighting to move from Nice to Kind. It taught me to move my lifelong relationship with Christ from seeing Him from a legalistic and truth perspective to a relationship of recognizing His kindness and loving Him for it and learning to temper Truth with Grace (as is best exemplified in Randy Alcorn’s “The Grace & Truth Paradox”).
I’m not Kind yet. I am kind-of Kind. I am Kind-er. I have times where kindness is my auto-pilot and love is the lift that keeps my plane aloft. Much of my ROM BIOS/Firmware has been flashed with new base instructions.
Going from Mean, through Nice, to Kind, has been every bit a “Fake it ‘till you make It.” journey.
Much of the difference between Kind and Nice has been the journey from deliberate and forced to natural, heartfelt, and sincere.
* none of this can be separated from the lessons of Total Forgiveness as taught by R.T. Kendall. Total Forgiveness parallels this idea ‘nice until kind’ in a strong way in that the process of Total Forgiveness is a daily decision to forgive. That practice will continue daily for a lifetime unless God eventually heals you to the point where you no longer need to decide each day because you have totally forgiven them.
One of the steps towards Total Forgiveness has been to realize that he would probably be completely bewildered and possibly very hurt that I see things this way. Realizing that has been one of the first steps towards extending him true grace. He’s no more and no less a sinful fallen lump than I am. We’re both ragamuffins, but only I’ve been given the blessing of realizing it.