Rob and I recently attended parent-teacher conferences at the kids' school. We had already seen the report cards, so we knew the kids were doing well we weren't too worried about what the teacher would say.
My Sally girl had a fantastic report card - one that Rob and I were very proud of - but when I told her that, she just half-smiled and shrugged. That bothered me. Over the past few weeks, I've noticed her saying things like, "M. is really good at math. She always finishes her time tests in time." Or "K. is a great reader. She can read anything."
Now, Sally is one of the most complimentary children I've ever known. She will regularly compliment people with enthusiasm, such as telling our waitress one night, "I just love those earrings! They are so sparkly and they look great on you!" To hear her compliment a classmate is not unusual. What bothered me was that through her compliments she was putting herself down.
Just observing her during homework this year, I can see that she is not a confident student. She assumes she is wrong more often than she assumes she is correct. I think the origins of her feelings are two-fold. She is slower learner and to her slow = not good. Timed math tests are the bane of her existence. If she has trouble reading new words or stumbles over more than one or two, she sighs and says she's not a good reader.
The other part of the problem is related to the first: she has an older sister and a younger brother who are extremely fast learners. They both taught themselves to read when they were barely four. They have nearly photographic memories. They make homework look like the easiest thing. Last year, we had to separate Bun from Sally while she did her homework because he would read over her shoulder and answer the questions before she could.
What she doesn't realize is that they are the oddities, not her. She is completely age-appropriate in her learning curve (even slightly ahead in some subjects). We've always let her know we are proud of her hard work and that she should be proud of her work, too. But it's tough to remember that when you are surrounded by siblings whose brains seem to work like computers.
A few days ago, Sally was talking with Rob about talents and gifts. They were mentioning family members and friends and what they thought were their greatest strengths.
When Sally recounted the conversation for me, said that she told Rob that her talent was "talking" because she wasn't very good at other things in school and she didn't know what her gift was. I was ready to do some pep-talking, but she just smiled and said,
"Daddy told me that my talent is talking because I can talk to anybody and make them feel better. He said that I always know the right thing to say to people, and that people always smile after they are done talking to me. He said that is because my real gift is kindness. God made me kind and that comes out in my talking."
And then she skipped away.
Well. Thank you, God, for my husband because he said exactly the right thing to her. And it's all true.
People go out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy talking with Sally and how much happier they feel after speaking with her. The words that are typically used to describe her are sweet, dear, kind, compassionate, tender, nurturing. They say things like "She'd be a great teacher. Or nurse. Or mother."
Sometimes I feel like kindness gets equated with niceness in our culture, but they aren't the same thing. Niceness can be just good manners (which are important, too), but real kindness comes from a wellspring of love for another person. There's a reason why kindness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It's hard to be truly kind, because that means you've really got to love first.
In a culture that emphasizes performance, achievement, and measurable success, something like kindness gets lost. You can't measure kindness, you can't test for it. You can certainly work at being more kind, but you're on your own there. There's no class in kindness.
Sally's been blessed with it, and people know it. It's why I always find her with her arm around someone, talking or listening. It's why her siblings will listen to her, when they won't listen to anyone else.
Kindness is her gift, and it comes out in her talking. Absolutely.