Last summer, I invited our congregation to participate in a kindness challenge. I said, “Approach strangers and ask, ‘Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?’
Since I encouraged the congregation to engage in this practice, I thought I should give it a try as well. Not that I wanted to. At all. I had many concerns. I’m reclusive by nature. I was afraid people would think I was weird. Or even worse, people would ask me to give something beyond my capacity to give – and then I would feel like a disappointment when I couldn’t deliver.
I often tell people to serve beyond their comfort zone though, so I decided to give the Stranger Kindness question a try.
The first person I asked, the manager of a store I often visit after hiking, replied “I have a hangover. Can you help?” I thought back to my wilder days, back when hangover cures were a topic. I was just about to say, “Maybe go to Denny’s and have some seriously greasy food?” But the manager disrupted my suggestion when he told me about the party he attended the night before. It was a celebration for his daughter’s college graduation. His smile came alive when he spoke of her.
There was nothing to change, nothing to fix – only connection and shared joy.
The next person I approached worked at Starbucks. I asked the question as he took my order for iced tea. He said, “I’m studying to become an EMT. I just want someone to tell me I can do it.”
“I believe in you,” I said. “You’re clearly a wonderful person and I know you’ll make a great EMT. Hang in there. You’ve got this!”
Both of our days were brightened by the heart surge, inspired by a simple question.
My favorite story about this kindness challenge wasn’t instigated by me. Mary, one of our congregants also went to Starbucks to ask the question. When Mary entered, she noticed the barista taking orders was professional and friendly in a well-trained way. Mary ordered her tea and then asked “Is there anything I can do or say to help you have a better day?”
The barista started to say no, but then she said, “You know what? I’d really like to meet a man. I’m not picky. I just want him to have teeth.”
Had I been there, I might have panicked, thinking “Oh wow, how can I manifest a toothy man right now?”
Mary gave the perfect response.
“I’ll hold that in prayer for you,” she said.
When Mary left Starbucks, she noticed that the barista’s demeanor had changed. Her superficial polish was replaced by deep delight. She glowed. Perhaps hope created the glow. Not only hope for a man with teeth; but hope found in the kindness of strangers – the kindness that connects and inspires us to serve one another in infinitely creative ways.
If you want your life to be a party of goodwill, you might want to try this practice. Ask strangers, “What can I do or say to help you have a better day?” Then stand by, ready to touch the hem of what matters most.