Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Lifelong Power of Kindness

Episode Resources

Sign up to take The 30-Day Kindness Challenge.

Leslie Basham: Husbands and wives can be so different! Here’s researcher Shaunti Feldhahn with one example.

Shaunti Feldhahn: We think of physical intimacy in our marriages as being primarily a physical need for him. You know, it’s a physical need, it’s a physical urge. If you’ve been chasing kids around all day, sleep seems like a physical need, too, right!?

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201, for September 1, 2017.

As you’re about to hear, this program was recorded on the road, and you’ll hear that it has some technical challenges. But stick with it, because today’s topic is so important. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I have loved this conversation with Shauti Feldhahn this week. Shaunti, thank you for taking time. I know you’ve got your parents coming in town for a visit, and Robert and I are on our way to a family event as well, but I’m so glad the Lord allowed our paths to intersect!

You’re actually headed to Michigan. I just came from Michigan, and we met here in Atlanta. I want to thank our friends, also, at the Salem station in Atlanta for making it possible for us to do this interview here. Thank you, Nick, for engineering.

It’s great having a guy in while we’re talking about this, so we can see where he’s nodding—he’s affirming—and saying, “You’re right, girls!” That’s meant a lot. Thank you so much.

This has been really helpful to me. As I said, I’m a new wife, and I’m really thinking hard about all this stuff. I have an incredible husband—whose picture should be on the front cover of this book, really!—because he epitomizes this kindness stuff. I can tell how it blesses me, but I want to learn how to bless him in greater ways and how to love him better.

All the things I’ve been telling women all these years, now I’m saying, “Oh, how do you actually do this?” Thank you for be a coach. I think of you as a coach. You’ve studied and listened to other people telling their stories about kindness. You’re a researcher, and then you’ve put it into this book, so we’ve gotten a lot of good coaching from you this week.

Shaunti: Thanks.

Nancy: The book is called The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship. Now, that’s not saying that there will be no challenges with that relationship after thirty days, but we have both really seen the power of Spirit-filled kindness to change a relationship.   

If nothing else, it changes the way we see that—maybe—hard person or that relationship we just want to improve. It’s just chock-full of practical, helpful, wise insights and examples of what this looks like.

I know our listeners have some questions. As we’ve gone along, we’ve tried to answer some of those, but lots more are in this book. It’s available for any of our listeners who would want to make a donation to help support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts and help women know better how to live out the Christ-filled life in their various relationships.

So when you call to make a donation or if you go online and do that, be sure and let us know that you want the Kindness book. If you have to ask for Shaunti Feldhahn, you might trip up on that name and not be sure how to say or spell it, but ask for the Kindness book and our people taking your call will know that that’s what you’re looking for.

We’ve talked about this challenge, which kind of grew out of The 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge . . . 

Shaunti: It did!

Nancy: . . . that we give every chance we can on Revive Our Hearts. I love how you have developed this, you’ve unpacked these different points. Again, just remind us—because I don’t want anybody to forget—I want lots and lots of people, I want everyone listening, to take The Kindness Challenge.

There are three parts to it that we’ve touched on. Just remind us what those are.

Shaunti: What you do is, you pick one person you want a better relationship with. It could be a spouse, a child, your difficult in-law—whoever that is. For thirty days you do three things (your listeners will recognize two of them). 

The first one is: You don’t say anything negative about that person—either to them or about them to somebody else—for that whole thirty days. Because that’s often where we sabotage ourselves and our relationships. When we speak about somebody else like, “Uh, I’m so frustrated with so-and-so!”

Nancy: Right. And that’s what we tend to fixate on. 

Shaunti: Yes, it’s very easy.

Nancy: That becomes all we can see. We see that person through eyes of hurt or eyes of disapproval or criticism. When we get rid of the negativity we realize, “There is really more to that person than what I’ve been focusing on.”

Shaunti: Yes, there’s so much more! That is then what you do as a second thing every day for thirty days. What is that "other"? What is the positive stuff? You look for and then you find something you can sincerely praise, sincerely affirm, about them. You tell that what that is, and you tell somebody else.

Nancy: And this is sincere. We’re not talking about something manipulative here. This is not to get something. This is to give, to represent the heart of Jesus to this person.

Shaunti: Even if you think it is so minor. Like, I had one mom who had a difficult situation with her adopted son, who was adopted out of a difficult, difficult foster situation. He’s just this little boy. He has so much rage, and he’s just always, “Errgghhh!”

So she’s a trauma mom. She was like, “How am I going to find something to praise every day?” But she had committed, “I’m doing the 30-Day Kindness Challenge. I’m going to do this!”

And so, literally, it would be things like, “Okay, honey, thanks for sitting still at the dinner table.” That was her thing for the day. But then, she would notice more the next time. She would notice, “Thank you for the fact that your brother tried to provoke you, and you didn’t let him. Good job!” She never would have even noticed that before, if she hadn’t been looking for the things to praise.

Nancy: We flower, we blossom, we flourish under . . . We do ourselves.

Shaunti: I know, it shouldn’t surprise us that others do, too!

Nancy: People do. You’ve said it’s like oxygen. It breathes life into what can be a stale or a negative relationship.

Shaunti: Yes. So those are the first two things—don’t say anything negative to or about them, find the one thing you can praise every day to and about them. And then you do a little action for them—some small action of generosity or kindness each day—a little day-to-day stuff. It doesn’t have to be big.

We found that if you do those three things for thirty days (and we did a big national study on this), eighty-nine percent of the relationships improved. It’s because it’s really changing you. It’s changing what you’re focusing on.

Nancy: And the other eleven percent, you just hadn’t heard about yet!

Shaunti: [Yes, exactly. That was just in the thirty days. I know some of the numbers would have changed if we had followed them for 120 days—or whatever.

Nancy: The point isn’t to be kind for thirty days and then stop. The point is to develop a whole new of way of seeing and looking and thinking and responding.

Shaunti: It’s a new habit. We basically found (and here’s the crucial thing that I can tell everybody) if there is somebody in your life that you want a better relationship with . . . Maybe you already have a good marriage and you just want to make it better. Maybe there is a difficult situation.

The first couple of days, you may think you’re going into this so benevolently. You may think, Okay, I’m going to do this. This other person is very difficult, but I’m going to do this.

You’re going to spend the first two or three days going, “Oh my word! Oh my goodness! I had no idea how often I was unkind!”

Nancy: A little de-toxing, here.

Shaunti: That’s a great word: de-tox. “Oh my goodness, I had no idea!” God is going to be opening your eyes. The first few days are just eye-opening. Then those first two weeks are: “Okay, what does this look like? I thought I was a kind person already. Now I’m practicing this every day, and I’m getting to be good at it in a whole different way.” It’s a boot camp for kindness.

Then the last two weeks is when you’re developing a habit. You’re taking that new competence at kindness, and you’re screwing it down deep into your heart and into your actions and into your thoughts and your attitudes, and it becomes a habit.

A lot of people actually told us, by the time day thirty happened, they’d kind of forgotten where they were in the challenge. A lot of people by that point, this was just a lifestyle.

Nancy: Some of the women who have done The 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge have told us their husband at some point wonders (they don’t tell him they’re doing this) Who is this woman, and what have you done with my wife?

I mean, this can be a really whole new way of thinking. I think, at times, it can feel a little awkward if you’re not used to saying these kinds of words. But there are simple ways to do that.

One of things Robert and I love doing is texting to each other. It’s not a substitute for spoken kind words, but it’s a way during the course of the day for us to check in with each other and to express kindness in just the little things.

You’d be amazed how impacting just a simple, “I love you,” text . . . ”I’m thinking about you!” “Thank you for doing this; I noticed when you did . . .” It can be just a one-line, quick text, but it blesses that person. It blesses their day. It encourages, it strengthens, it gives life.

Shaunti: Oh, yes.

Nancy: Even in those difficult relationships, it’s going to change you, and it’s going to change them!

Shaunti: When you think about a text message, a voicemail, an email—whatever it is for you—if in your relationship that’s a way that you communicate, absolutely use that as the vehicle for your words of praise that day. Don’t think that it only has to be verbal.

I’ve been doing this for my teenage daughter. She’s a great kid. She just turned seventeen, and she really has that eye-roll thing down. It makes her momma’s head explode! (Let’s just say it that way.)

There can be times that I just focus on a lot of the frustration, and I don’t notice the good. During The 30-Day Kindness Challenge for her (that’s who I was doing it for), I would notice . . . I’d be texting her about something—“When you are going to get back from volleyball?”—or something logistical. I started going, “You know what? Let me put this in the text so she will have it to look at.”

One of the first things that I did was, I said, “Honey, I have to tell you, when I saw you at that volleyball game yesterday, and I saw how you guys were down by like ten points, you rallied your team members. You knew you were probably going to lose, but you didn’t let them get discouraged. You cheered them on. You kept going right until that last point. (Which, they did lose). I am so proud of watching you as a leader!”

I found out later that she showed that text message to somebody at her school.

Nancy: Wow. It breathed life into her.

Shaunti: It breathed life into her. I had no idea that it was so . . . To me it was just like a little one-off, little comment. But not minor to her.

Nancy: Right, yes. You can’t imagine the power of this. We said it had superpowers—kindness. It's so powerful!

Shaunti: Yes, kindness is a superpower.

Nancy: Let’s talk a little bit about this thing of “acts of kindness”—not just the words, but acts of generosity and kindness. What might that look like?

Shaunti: It’s interesting, because when we think of that number three element of doing a small act of generosity for them, our brains immediately go to the random-acts-of-kindness movement. You pay for the people behind you in the drive-through (you know, in the beat-up car). All of that is wonderful.

But it takes on a whole new meaning and it raises your ability to be kind to a whole other level when you’re really focusing on that one person, and you’re trying to figure out: What are the types of generosity are going to matter to them? Frankly, it helps you figure out: What are your strengths?

Here we are. We’re beating everybody up, and we’re beating ourselves up. (We’re more negative than we thought. We don’t praise as often as we thought.) But you know what? Maybe we don’t do these actions as often as we should, but we do them. What are the things that come naturally to us, to bless other? Maybe they don’t come naturally, but you can develop a habit in something you’re good at.

I’ll give you an example of the type of thing you wouldn’t even think of as an act of generosity: Be interested in the other person. Take an interest in what’s going on in that other person’s life. Instead of focusing on yourself in a conversation, focus on that other person in the conversation.

Nancy: You actually learned this as a young person after having some difficulties in your own childhood.

Shaunti: It’s interesting to look back on this now because growing up, I was actually the kid nobody liked.

Nancy: You, Shaunti?

Shaunti: Many of us goes through these phases as a child. But that was my experience. I mean, truly, I didn’t know how to make friends. I desperately wanted friends; I’m an extrovert. But we had some issues in our family. We’d gone through a tragedy oflosing a very close family member. I just didn’t know how to handle life. It was just difficult growing up. I would talk about myself, and I was shocked why that wouldn’t make people like me. You know, I’m chattering about myself all day long!

I was so unhappy and sinking into a depression. When I was twelve years old, I was at my grandparents’ house for the summer. My grandfather gives me this little book. It was written to adults. It was sort of really a business book, honestly.

It was talking about  how it is you can make an impact on people. It talked about what makes business deals work really well. But there was this principle in there that said, if you want someone to think that you are the best conversationalist ever, if you want someone to think you are an amazing person, don’t talk about yourself. Ask them about them.

Enter their life. Figure out what it is in their heart that they’re thinking right now and dig into that. Ask them where they went on vacation. You know, for me as a twelve-year-old, it was this eye-opening experience of, “You mean, wait, if I ask somebody, ‘What did you do over your summer break?’ they’re going to think I’m a good conversationalist? They’re going to want to talk to me?”

It's because I’m focusing on them. That principle is a simple principle of generosity. You’re caring about the other person. That’s the kind of thing that when I, for example, with my daughter say, “What did you today?” And I’m like halfway working on a deadline, I’ve got my phone in my hand, and I’m not really paying attention, that doesn’t do anything.

But, when I put everything down, ignore the distractions, and I turn to her and I say, “So, that situation with a friend that you told me about, what’s going on? What are you thinking about that?”I'm trying to get into her heart, that’s an act of generosity. It’s an act of love, but it’s an act of generosity.

Nancy: It tells her that she is more valuable to you than whatever else you were working on and that you really do care, that you want to be in her world.

Shaunti: It’s an amazing tool, and you can think of it as something manipulative, or you can think of it as, “This is a tool God has given us to help others feel better about themselves.”

Nancy: You talk about some other types of gifts—ways that we can give something that is precious to us. This one you just referenced—giving of the time . . . [Shaunti starts laughing.] What are you laughing about?

Shaunti: I’m laughing because, for me, it usually involves sugar. I’m sorry . . . Actually, I have to admit this out loud (this is horrible!). But this is an example of an action of generosity. My husband had made this most unbelievable cake for me for Mother’s Day.

Nancy: Way to go, Jeff!

Shaunti: Yes, way to go Jeff. It was actually tiramisu. He really did it up. He was really trying to figure this out. He usually doesn’t have time, but I was gone for Mother’s Day weekend (it’s very common for me to be speaking at some other church on Mother’s Day). So we did our Mother’s Day the next day, and he unveiled this tiramisu—which was awesome! I kind of wanted to keep it all for myself! 

Nancy: “This is mine!”

Shaunti: “This is mine!” But I knew my daughter loved this. So there was actually a conflict a couple of days later when the tiramisu was running out. I mean, this sounds horrible, but it was actually an action of generosity to say to her, “Go ahead, you can have that. Go ahead, have that last piece.” And it sounds completely ridiculous that that should matter.

But here’s the thing that I noticed. As we go through these actions of generosity, you know what happens? We’re speaking to the other person about their importance to us and how much we care about them. But the other thing we’re doing is, we’re taking our grip off of the stuff that matters to us. At the same time we’re really working on ourselves.

Nancy: We’re getting free.

Shaunti: We’re getting free.

Nancy: Now, in this same context, you talk about physical intimacy in marriage, and how that can be a gift.

Shaunti: Yes. I knew you were going to bring that up!

Nancy: Well, I think it’s so important. I’m glad you brought it up in this book.

Shaunti: Well, here’s the thing about this. For all of the women listening to this, if you are listening to this and you are a married woman, there is a higher than average chance that your husband has—probably—more of a desire for physical intimacy than you do on a day-to-day basis.

That’s not going to be everybody. Some couples are very evenly matched, and for some couples, it’s actually the wife who has that greater desire. But statistically—maybe about seven out of ten, depending on which study you look at—the husband is the one. If that is the case for you, then think about this. 

When you actually reach out towards him in that way, that is a really powerful action of generosity and kindness because it is caring about something that matters a lot to him. I should explain to the women that this is actually (if you don’t mind me diving over into the research about men for a minute from For Women Only) . . .

One of the things that we found is that we, as women, have this big misunderstanding about what physical intimacy means to our husbands. We think of physical intimacy in our marriages as being primarily a physical need, for him. That’s kind of the category we mentally put it in.

You know, it’s a physical need—it’s a physical urge. If you’ve been chasing kids around all day, sleep seems like a physical need, too, right? Once I was actually asking the men, “What’s the importance of this in your life?” What I heard from them had nothing to do with the physical—nothing!

What I heard was this enormous emotional need that they couldn’t get met any other way. It’s the need that every man has, to feel that his wife desires him. And that, it turns out (surprising to many of us as women) gives our husbands a sense of confidence and a sense of well-being, really, in all the other areas of their life.

And conversely (and here’s where it really becomes relevant to this), it works the other way as well. If he doesn’t feel desired, if he feels like it’s a little too easy for his wife to say, “You know what, honey? I’m just really tired!” It almost gives him this feeling like, “I must be so undesirable, I can’t even compete with her pillow!”

That poor guy, that’s really a depressing thought. And that gives them a feeling of a lack of confidence and a lack of well-being in other areas of his life. And so, thinking about that, this is not a small thing at all. This is actually a pretty major type of generosity that—for you as wife, to actually think about that—because that’s what we found is the biggest holdup.

There are certainly medical issues; there are all sorts of issues. You may be having a very difficult time in your marriage and you’re like, “Okay, I just need to take that off the table for a while.” Absolutely, I understand that.

But in most situations, it’s mostly just because we’re physiologically different. We just don’t think about it in the same way. And so, start thinking about it, and then act on it. That is a wonderful way of blessing your husband with this act of generosity.

Nancy: I want to touch on one more area that you mentioned—and I think it’s so important in relationships, and for us as believers especially. Assume the best. When we talk about practicing kindness, I don’t know why it is that some of us, sometimes, are so prone to assume the worst.

When you’re talking about your mate or your child, this can be particularly damaging in the relationship. Why does this matter so much?

Shaunti: It’s interesting. There was a research study we did a number of years ago on the happiest marriages. What is it that makes the happiest marriages, and what are they doing different from everybody else (even people in good marriages)?

And this one thing—that they chose to believe the best, even when they were legitimately hurt. That one thing, we found, was a prerequisite. You cannot have a happy marriage without it. There were twelve of these little habits that we identified; it was the only one that was a prerequisite.

And if you think about it, it makes sense. It makes sense why this would be a very important action of kindness. All of us are going to get hurt at times. The question is, what do you choose to believe about the other person’s intentions toward you when that happens? Because the happiest marriages get hurt; the best parents-and-kid relationships get hurt, but what are you going to choose to believe about the other person’s intentions?

I’ll give you an example of how this can work well and how this can fall apart. I was at an event a little while ago. It was a marriage conference; it was a Friday night and a pretty big chunk of the day on Saturday (that Jeff and I were speaking at).

And, independently, a husband comes up to us at one point and his wife came up to us at another point, hours later, kind of on the down-low, off to the side. (“Can I talk to you over here in a corner?”)

The husband said, “Nothing I do is good enough for her. She just doesn’t care about me. She just this and that and these problems, and she just doesn’t care.” Okay? The wife comes up to us hours later, on the down-low, off in a corner, “It’s like he doesn’t care about me. Nothing works. He couldn’t give a rip about what I want . . . blah, blah, blah.”

Both of them were basically saying the other person doesn’t care. I looked at the two of them, independent of each other, and I see: “This person is spending the entire weekend with you at a marriage conference! What do you mean they don’t care!?”

And the wife—she was the one who came up to me second—so I had the benefit of having known that her husband had already come up to me (and I didn’t say that he had). I said, “You know, can I just tell you something? Your husband is spending all weekend in the fall on a Saturday afternoon (when college football is on!) at a marriage conference with you!”

Nancy: He must care some. 

Shaunti: “Why do you think he doesn’t care?” And here’s, really, what we find: It is very easy to think to ourselves things like (this is natural): He knew how that would make me feel, and he said it anyway. I’m hurt, and you think, He knew it; he said it anyway. You’re saying, “He doesn’t care about me.”

Nancy: And you’re assigning motive.

Shaunti: You’re assigning motive. Here’s the power of this action of generosity. When your brain starts to think that. (Which it will. Right? You’re hurt—everybody gets hurt.) You go, “No, absolutely not! I am not going to think about that because I know he cares about me. I know he loves me.”

And you think, What did he do? Okay, yesterday he did this: He took the kids out to get ice cream so I could have a few minutes alone. Or, “He did this,” or “He did that.” And you’re remembering. It’s like Psalm 103: “Forget not all His benefits” (v. 2). Right? What did God do that makes me recognize that He loves me and that He’s good, despite all these things that are happening?

I’m going to, “Forget not all his [my husband’s] benefits.”

And you go, “I know my husband loves me; I know he cares about me. So he must not have known how that thing would make me feel or he wouldn’t have said it.”

And you turn it around and you think, What is the most generous explanation for this thing that hurt me?

Almost always (sadly, not always), but almost always, you will find it.

Nancy: The most generous explanation for that action.

Shaunti: Yes, what is the most generous explanation? And, sometimes, the most generous explanation for him (and for us, by the way) is, “Even the amazing, godly Christian husband (and wife) can be a knucklehead sometimes. But that’s all it is, is I’m being a knucklehead.”

And, “Okay, tomorrow I’ll feel better. I’ll get a good night’s sleep. I’ll—whatever.” And you know what? We want them to be generous with us when we hurt them. So let’s be generous.

Nancy: Exactly. We want God to be generous with us.

Shaunti: Yes we do, very much so.

Nancy: And Jesus addressed that very thing in the Sermon on the Mount, in the portion of Luke chapter 6, where he talks about doing good—not just to those who love you—not just to those who do good to you. But to those who don’t, to those who are sinners.

He said, “Love your enemies . . . do good . . . lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (see Matt. 5:38–48). 

Shaunti: Well, let me tell you. This was a big eye-opening one for me when I first looked at that verse in context of what I was seeing in The 30-Day Kindness Challenge research. I realized that verse is the origin of the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.”

We teach that to our kids. Everybody in the world knows that. We all think of it as this sweet sentiment, and we think, “Absolutely, that’s important!” Well, you know what? It is not a sweet sentiment, because the situation that Jesus is talking about there—the context of that verse—is exactly these types of situations.

Active injustice, active cruelty . . . somebody being mean to you, for example. And the example He uses is somebody’s stealing from you. And yet, He says, “Look, if you’re kind to the people who are kind to you, sorry, no brownie points for that. You don’t get credit. What I’m calling my people to do, I’m setting the bar much higher. I’m calling you to treat that person who’s treating you very cruelly in the kind and generous and grace-filled way you wish they were treating you.” And if that’s what Jesus calls us to do for our actual enemies, you know what? We can believe the best of this spouse of ours, or this child of ours, or our father-in-law.

Is it always going to be the case? No. But in the spouse situation, statistically, it was ninety-nine percent of the cases.

Nancy: Wow. Well, I know a lot of people listening to this conversation are going to want to get hold of this book, and we’d love to send it as our way of saying "thank you" for anyone who makes a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

I’m sitting here, Shaunti, listening to you—thinking of how many people are stuck in some relationship that just seems that they’re at an impasse. It seems like it can’t improve, it can’t get better. They’ve tried and tried and tried and nothing’s happening, nothing’s changing.

And maybe, mentally, they’ve just checked out: “I’m tired of doing this. I’m tired of being the one to do the giving.” Well, I want to just say, I believe God can get you unstuck. The Kindness Challenge may be exactly what you need to help with that.

What can you lose? You become more like Jesus. 

Shaunti: That’s a great point!

Nancy: You show His love to others . . . What if we Christians really were to be the kindest people on the face of the earth? All our apologetics, all our trying to prove the gospel to people, all our shouting or ranting or whatever we do to make ourselves heard (that’s not having so much impact) . . . What if we really were the kind people where they could see your marriage and mine and your children and how you treat them and you in the workplace and me in our office and could see us being merciful, as our Father in heaven is merciful? That’s going to make people stop and go, “Wow! There’s something powerful there.”

Shauti: That is the vision that Jesus casts for us. Thanks for putting it that way, seriously!, because I need that. I need to have that challenge set before me of, “Imagine, what would happen to the world if we all looked like this.”

Leslie: That’s Shaunti Feldhahn talking with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth about Shaunti’s book The Kindness Challenge. Like Nancy just said, we’d like to send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Call us at 1–800–569–5959 and ask for The Kindness Challenge or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

On Monday, Nancy will show us what Jesus had to say to a church that was tempted to compromise the truth. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help your words be full of kindness. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

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