A Mustard Seed of Empathy

Anokina Shahbaz, Volunteer Writer, Huntley | November 2, 2023

It is a sin to despise one’s neighbor, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.
Proverbs 14:21

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.
Proverbs 19:17

There is a small gold frame that sits on my desk, holding a plain white paper with this sentence typed on it: “If you can be anything, be kind.” I bought it at a local art show over the summer. I was drawn to the significance of the message, one I had heard many times, hidden behind simple words. What does kindness require of me and you? Just a mustard seed of empathy. If we can empathize with others, we can extend kindness their way. But there is a shrewd force that sometimes gets in the way of feeling empathy—judgment.

When Proverbs 14:21 tells us it is a sin to despise our neighbor, at the root of despising lies the all too familiar habit of placing judgment. Anything that is even remotely the opposite of kindness has no place in God’s kingdom work. We cannot produce the fruit of the Spirit of kindness while spending our energy judging our neighbors. God calls us to put our judgment aside (Matthew 7:1) and redirect our focus on being kind instead. 

But this isn’t easy, is it? As I sit here writing about kindness, I’m reminded of all the unkind thoughts I have had and the unkind words I have spoken in recent days. How can we begin to think about being “kind to the needy” if we can’t even show kindness in our own homes? Maybe it’s by expanding our definition of “needy” and rethinking about who this verse is intended for that it begins to hold more meaning. Who am I to decide who “the needy” are? Who are we to judge what people need most at the time they need it? 

The truth is, the needy isn’t just the man experiencing homelessness down the street, or the elderly widow in the retirement home. The needy is the exhausted mother tirelessly working hard to raise her kids to love Jesus. The needy is the teenage girl desperately seeking approval from her peers, fighting the voices in her mind that tell her she’s not good enough. The needy is anyone who feels the consuming ache of being human and longs for a peace that only God can provide. 

When it comes to our walk with God, we are all in need—whether of salvation, mercy, grace, or of love. Just as we have been shown immeasurable kindness by the work on the cross, God is asking us to show that same compassion to others. So “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” — Wendy Mass

Next Steps   

  • Take some time to pray about how you can be kind to someone in need this week. 
  • Plan for a random act of kindness in your community and have a friend join you.
  • Looking for tangible ways to practice Proverbs 14:21 in your local community? Visit Willow’s Compassion and Justice website to see how you can take advantage of a serving opportunity.