The nightly news has taken to reporting YouTube videos that go viral. One they featured last night was of a store clerk who stooped to tie the shoes of a customer who would have had a hard time doing it himself.
According to their reports, the clerk has received an outpouring of positive feedback. The customer who filmed him bending and tying this stranger’s shoes supposedly teared up because it was so stunning to see someone do a random act of kindness like that.
I suspect it had such great impact because no one had told this store clerk he should do a random act of kindness. In other words, there was no campaign, no day set aside to look for someone to help. He acted because he saw a need and wanted to do what he could.
The story made me think—that’s the kind of self-forgetful love God intends His Church to display, first toward one another, then toward our neighbors, and even toward our enemies.
Imagine what an impact the Church could have. I mean, if one random act of kindness moved people so, what might a dozen do? Or a hundred? Multiply that by every city that has a hundred Christians.
It seems to me either people would notice or people would start taking random acts of kindness for granted. Of course, not every random act of kindness is going to end up on YouTube. In fact, if it does, there’s a possibility it isn’t so random.
I remember when America’s Funniest Home Videos were random instead of staged. I liked them a lot better. Something about the pre-planned spontaneous moment loses authenticity. I suspect the same would happen with pre-planned random acts of kindness.
My guess is, a lot of people would be willing to do a random act of kindness, but we’re too busy and too unaware. We rush past those in need without realizing we could help them. We don’t see the untied shoe or the stalled car or the dropped diaper bag. We could stoop to pick it up or pull out jumper cables or get on our knees to tie it. But we don’t pay enough attention to the strangers around us to realize we could help.
We’ve also become a suspicious lot. We think if someone is offering to do something nice, they must have an ulterior motive.
And we’ve become an independent culture—oddly, when the US was a rural society, neighbors relied on neighbors, but now that we live in close proximity in our cities, we operate on the self-serve principle. Consequently, we may not think to help others because it hasn’t dawned on us that they would want help. We would rather do it ourselves, so they probably would too.
And when we can’t do it ourselves, we pay to have it done. Reportedly, the gentleman who had his shoes tied, tried to pay the clerk for tying them. I’m not surprised. Thankfully, the clerk declined to take any money for doing a good deed.
The first step, I think, is to decide that yes, even little things like tying someone else’s shoes matter. After all, Jesus took it upon Himself to wash His disciples’ feet.
In that Jewish culture, the job of washing feet was a servant’s job and the recipients were the guests, particularly the guests of honor. Jesus, who truly was the Guest of Honor, took the role of servant, and He stated clearly that He was doing it as an example for His followers.
You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. (John 13:13-15)
When I was young, my parents belonged to a church that believed the foot washing command was literal. Hence foot washing became a ceremonial observance attached to communion.
I can tell you, it’s a humbling experience—not so much washing someone’s feet but having someone else wash yours. I get why Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet.
But that’s a side issue. The point here is, I believe Jesus wasn’t limiting His command to foot washing. I believe He was saying we are to take the role of servant in our relationships with others.
Hence, we ought to be attentive to those around us. We ought to care more about their time worries than our own. We ought to be willing to go out of our way for others.
Isn’t that what the Good Samaritan did in the story Jesus told to illustrate who our neighbor is? Our neighbor—the person we are to love—is the individual who is in need right in front of us.
In this communication age, we often know of people in need who live half way around the world. Sometimes we think we have a responsibility to them, but we think we have no means for significantly providing them with help. However, we can always pray! That’s not a “cope out.” It’s the best thing we can do because we are involving omnipotent God who can make a difference in their circumstances.
But possibly being so aware of the great needs around the world can make us numb to the smaller needs across the street or down the block. If people aren’t running for their lives or haven’t been imprisoned or kidnapped, we somehow don’t think their needs merit our attention.
In reality, there are people who have the resources to help others in small ways, but they are blind to the very people God has put in their path. So our second step, after we decide little things matter, is to determine that the people God places in front of us matter.
Prayerfully we can make ourselves available to do the small acts of kindness that can make a difference to a watching world starved for love and good news–small acts like tying someone else’s shoes.