I am watching my husband play basketball, sitting on metal bleachers in the YMCA gymnasium when I hear her calling my name; old enough in body to be my mother, young enough in mind to be my child. She looks up at me earnestly and we half-shout at each other to be heard above the noise of the annual Fire Department vs. Special Olympics basketball game. (In all the years of playing, the firefighters have been mysteriously unable pull off a win.)
She is happy to see me: at one time, we were her landlords. She liked my husband, Daniel, though she couldn’t convince him to let her get a pet. We talk about her new housing situation and the Christmas tree ornament she’d given me.
“Hayley, I have a question for you.” Her face is uplifted, voice still raised.
“I don’t have any family. My mom died,” she pauses for emphasis: “WILL YOU AND DANIEL ADOPT ME?”
Everyone sitting near us on the bleachers turns to look and then discreetly turns away, leaving me to answer all on my own. It isn’t funny; she is dead serious.
In a flash I run scenarios through my mind: she is alone in the world, cared for by well-meaning government programs, being adopted by a family. What does that even look like? Do you adopt 55-year-old women? Maybe we could just have a weekly game night, I think, unable to turn away from anyone who cries out: love me.
God, is this something You are asking us to do?
In my deep desire to get it right, to move forward, unshrinking from the hard things, the simplicity of doing the right thing is paralyzed by the analytical thought process of knowing which right thing to do.
You don’t need to be epic, you need to be kind.
Where did that come from?
I slide over on the bleachers and pat the metal next to me. “Want to come up and sit with me?” Her face splits into a grin and she climbs up. We sit together and watch the game, cheering for our favorites. We gossip a bit. I’m still thinking about adult adoption when she abruptly tells me goodbye and leaves, happy. I watch her walk across the edge of the court to sit with her teammates and know that she is happy and loved by the community that she is part of.
Did she really want me to adopt her? Or did she just want to belong? Why is it sometimes easier for me to think about adoption than sharing my evening? I never answered her question. MFD lost the game (again). I went home and thought about being epic.
It’s a go-viral, epic, do-big-things world out there. The church isn’t an exception to this trend: we (rightly) honor people who do great things. In a broken society, you can’t help but be impressed by the difference makers: they adopt, they start non-profits, they go to Africa, they write books, they open their doors to the homeless. They are the epic people, you know. Sometimes these heroes end up on pedestals. Sometimes we end up on pedestals. It’s easy to be great on a pedestal but it’s hard to remember the power of simple kindness: taking the time to stop and say hello is becoming a lost art because we’re so desperately busy trying to be intentional and, well, you know, epic.
Small things lead to great things but often in the rush of ambition, human nature loses sight of the small. Kindness leads to greatness: people don’t start risky NGOs in third world countries to be mean. But once greatness has seemingly arrived, we often find ourselves far too busy to be kind. Busy, busy, shockingly busy, much too busy for you. But no worries, I’m busy doing great things.
I’m surely not immune to the desire to make my life matter. I don’t want to sit in a do-nothing vegetative state. But I also don’t want to lose sight of the sweetness of being kind. Without creating a tension between two good things (it’s good to do great things) (it’s good to be kind), I wish we could see a revival of simple kindness.
So I’ve been thinking:
1. If you’re epic, be kind.
While carrying heavy responsibilities it’s tempting to write off briskness as efficiency, but efficiency can still be approachable and kind.
2. Be kind to the epic people.
Doing a great work can be a lonely venture. Observers can be jealous, snippy and critical. Be an encourager. Realize the isolation of doing hard things. Mr. Epic may not have asked for the pedestal he finds himself on.
3. If you’re not epic, be kind.
It’s not a popular thought, but it’s okay to be faithful in the small things. We can’t all write books and be famous and start foundations. That would be weird. Living a quiet life and loving people well requires enormous strength and bravery. Being kind isn’t small.
“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around, how quickly a little power goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. . .Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not be served- and then to give away his life in exchange for the many who are held hostage.” (Matthew 20:24-28, The Message)
Mother Teresa said:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
You might adopt; you might not. But either way, make room on the bleachers for someone who needs your kindness.
Photography: JenniMarie Photography