Whenever I think back to some of the darkest days of my youth, the people who walked alongside me, fought for me and cared for me when I couldn’t care for myself, there is one thing that they all have in common: kindness. I would perhaps be so bold to say that it was the single most important characteristic of those who showed up in my darkness.
Kindness was in the teachers who let me sit in her office to watch episodes of Friends and nab a biscuit to stave off a panic attack. Kindness was in the chaplain who let me speak honestly about the despair and desperation I was feeling. Kindness was the youth worker who allowed me to wrestle with the difficult questions of who I was and where God was in the midst of my pain.
All too often, kindness is seen as a soft option, or just a nice ‘added extra’, but kindness lies at the heart of who God is and how God calls us to act. It sits as a fruit of the Spirit alongside joy, peace, forbearance, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control because it’s how God shows himself through us.
This week, as we mark Mental Health Awareness Week in the middle of a global pandemic - our young people have never needed kindness more. And even better, research carried out by the Mental Health Foundation found that 63 per cent of UK adults agreed that experiencing kindness from someone has a positive impact on their mental health, and the same proportion agree that being kind to others has a positive impact on their mental health.
Find kindness in God
We have to locate kindness in who God is. When we are kind, we’re reflecting the character of God. We can’t be kind without God first having shown us His kindness - and it’s writ through scripture like a stick of rock. I particularly love, that in the book of Jeremiah, the guy known as the ‘weeping prophet’ we see this beautiful picture of God’s kindness, reminding us to draw close to Him.
Jeremiah 31:3: “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love;I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.”
Be kind to yourself
We need to be kind to ourselves. As youth workers it’s all to easy to burn out by running around fighting fires without giving ourselves a break, but burnout serves no-one. Being kind to yourself might mean ensuring you put really strict boundaries around your Sabbath, getting outside once a day, eating healthily-is or prioritising sleep; whatever it is enables us to then be kinder to others. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup, and we need rest to power our kindness and a chance to reconnect with God, the source of all kindness. This is not only good for us - but good to model to our young people.
Talk about kindness
Encourage it amongst the children and young people you work with. Whether that be by trying to find examples in the Bible of God’s kindness, talking about when we ourselves have experienced it or making a concerted effort to participate in random acts of kindness, it’s a positive thing to focus on. Perhaps incorporate sharing kindnesses you’ve given and received in your weekly Zoom calls to encourage one another.
Rachael Newham is founder of Christian mental health charity ThinkTwice and author of Learning to Breathe, a memoir and theological reflection on mental illness.