The idea began, as so many good ideas do, over coffee. It was November, and my two friends and I were already lamenting the upcoming holiday busyness and the ever-increasing length of our children’s Christmas lists.
It was Julie who posed the question: What if we refocused our kids’ attention on giving rather than getting? What if we decided to do one kind act each day during the season of Advent?
To be honest, I was already dreading the upcoming round of holiday obligations. Wouldn’t this just be one more thing to do?
But, despite my initial hesitation, our families each agreed to try out an experiment in kindness—and we LOVED it. We paid for gas for strangers, rang bells for the Salvation Army, brought meals to new mamas, and wrote thank you cards for our school custodians. We shoveled snow for elderly neighbors, rounded up stray carts in the grocery store parking lot, and left extra diapers and wipes on changing tables. We bought items for animals in shelters, cooked meals for folks experiencing homelessness, and delivered cookies to local police.
Advent kindness became our new holiday tradition, but a couple of years later, I wanted to expand the experiment. I asked my friends what they thought about doing one act of kindness each day for an entire year. I’m pretty sure they thought I was crazy, but they agreed to try it anyway.
As a mom of three young daughters (ages 8, 6, and 3), my house is often drowning in Barbies and feelings. I wanted to know how intentionally focusing on kindness would change my family; even the small glimpses of my children’s generous spirits during Advent were enough to encourage me to at least try.
But if I’m honest, our year of kindness changed me the most of all. It began with a mindset change—from thinking that my home, my finances, and even my time were something I possessed to thinking of them as a resource. This shifted my perspective from one of inward-focused ownership to one of outward-focused generosity.
In the Bible, the word “kindness” is sometimes substituted in for the word “mercy.” In my mind, that gets to the heart of why we are kind—because we ourselves have received mercy from our gracious God, we are called to extend it to others. A great example of this is Micah 6:8:
“He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?” (ESV)
That focus on mercy—true kindness, in my mind—is the same reason that in our home, we don’t talk about being nice, we talk about being kind. The idea behind it is to address the heart of the issue, rather than a simple behavior. It’s a good reminder for me, too: The intention behind an action matters just as much as the action itself does.
I won’t tell you that my children are perfect paragons of generosity. Far from it, in fact. But my husband and I believe that encouraging generosity in our children is important enough that we choose to intentionally incorporate it into our lives. For instance, right now we’re in the middle of a Summer Kindness Bucket List. Last week, my daughters and I spent hours painting rocks with brightly-colored messages of encouragement—“Be kind,” “You are brave,” “Be you”—and then left them at local parks for others to pick up. The week before that, we made cookies for a neighbor who had surgery. Before that, we put water and snacks in a cooler outside our front door for postal workers and anyone else dropping off a package at our home. It’s not an exaggeration to say my girls spent half the day staring out our front windows, waiting to see if someone would come so they could ask them, in person, what snacks they wanted.
We’ve learned a lot since that cold November day I had coffee with friends, so many years ago. We didn’t realize that what started as a simple experiment with our kids would set an example that would expand outward—into the way we engage with others, work within organizations and ministries, and interact with our church families. Focusing on intentional kindness has become a way of life that has not only encouraged us, it has sparked larger conversations within our families, organizations, and communities, and reframed our perspective on the true power of generosity.
Kristin Demery is part of a trio of writers known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin, Kendra, and Julie are three friends whose lives are intertwined as writers, speakers, wives, moms, and world-changers. They believe in the immense power of authentic community and of intentionally living one’s faith out loud through simple acts of kindness. You can find out more about them and their most recent book, The One Year Daily Acts of Kindness Devotional, by connecting with them on Facebook, Instagram, or on their website.