We've all experienced the loss of friendships. Sometimes we lose them because someone moves away, and we just "lose touch." Those "losses" are just part of the changing seasons of life. But sometimes friendships die, right before our eyes, for lack of kindness.
I have been contemplating the essence of kindness in the face of such a death. I keep thinking about this:
Ephesians 4:32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.
Kind. Tender-hearted. Forgiving.
Regardless of how one may choose to analyze that admonishment from Paul grammatically, I believe that tenderheartedness and forgiveness are intrinsic qualities of kindness. For only a tender heart can be kind. And only one who has forgiven--unreservedly, extravagantly--out of the abundance of mercy they have been shown, is free to show unrestrained kindness. And is there any other kind? Is there such a thing as tempered kindness? Guarded kindness? No. For such would be perceived as feigned or forced, and therefore, most assuredly, unkind.
The face of unkindness masks a hard, rather than a tender and open, heart. And it reveals a reluctance to forgive. Usually we withhold forgiveness and harden our hearts to protect ourselves from being hurt. Again. It's natural. When someone has hurt us, we want to protect ourselves from being hurt again. So we may say, "I forgive you, but..." What we are really saying with that "but," is that we acknowledge what the other person has done to hurt us, and we recognize our responsibility to forgive them, but we aren't willing to acknowledge the hurt that we have caused them. We aren't ready to receive the forgiveness that we are so piously offering, and so desperately in need of ourselves, because to do so would require a humility and a vulnerableness that our hardened heart will not accommodate.
What I am learning? Protecting myself from being hurt again: it's just a form of pride. And "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble." And it is His kindness that leads me to repentance." His kindness: His tender heart, and His forgiveness. And if I want my friend to repent? Again, it is kindness that leads. It is kindness that initiates. It is what drew my heart to God. It is what draws my heart to others, time and time again. But kindness only flows from a tender heart. There is no such thing as self-protective, hard-hearted kindness.
Thankfully, there is no vicious cycle with God, the way there is between us, because He doesn't withhold His kindness based on our failure to perform in return. He lavishes it upon us freely. His mercies are new every morning. But it's only when we receive them from Him with a tender heart, broken and contrite, that we can forgive others, "even as Christ forgave us." Because it's only when we come to the place of knowing that we are rich beyond measure in Him, that we can freely give out of that abundance, as though we had nothing to lose. And resuscitate a friendship dying for lack of kindness.
"What is desired in a friend is kindness;" in fact, kindness is the very air a friendship breathes. To prove this, we need only to look to the One who said, "I have called you friends," and be Him to one another.