Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Power of Kindness in an Unkind World

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Leslie Basham: Do you ever find yourself looking at choices we’re making as a society and talking to yourself like this . . .

Shaunti Feldhahn: If this happens, it’s going to be a catastrophe!

Leslie: This is Shaunti Feldhahn.

Shaunti: If such-and-such gets elected—or doesn’t get elected—it’s gonna be a catstrophe!

Leslie: And if you feel that way, you need to be careful.

Shaunti: For many of us, trying to confront that catastrophe, we become remarkably unkind people . . . and incredibly mean!

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nance DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201, for Wednesday, August 30, 2017.

Today’s program was recorded on the road and doesn’t sound like our normal studio, but I hope you’ll focus on the content because it’s so helpful. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: If you missed yesterday’s program, I hope you’ll go back to and pick up either the transcript, read the transcript, or—better yet—listen to the audio.

Shaunti Feldhahn is our guest this week. She is so great at explaining this whole Kindness Challenge that she’s written about, and that we’re talking about, so you’ll want to catch that and get a fuller sense of what this challenge is about.

Shaunti, thank you so much for coming to meet me here in Atlanta while we’re on a road trip. My husband and I are in the area for a couple of days, and I’m so glad our schedules were able to be coordinated, to have this conversation.

Shaunti: What a joy to be able to do this. It’s been awhile since I was with you, and I’m so glad you’re here!

Nancy: I loved reading this book as we were coming into Atlanta. It’s called The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship. My husband was trying to take a nap next to me, in the window seat, and I just wanted to keep interrupting him, saying, “Honey, this is so practical, this is so wise, this is so helpful, this is so insightful!”

And then, of course, I would say several times through the course of the last day as we’ve been getting ready to come and I’ve been digesting what’s in this book, “Honey, this book is about you. You are so kind. This is you!”

Shaunti: Aww, so sweet.

Nancy: I would read a line to him and say, “You do this, honey. That’s what helps our relationship. You’re an encourager; you’re generous with your praise and your affirmation.” I can just say as a wife, what a huge blessing that is because I tend to be more negative. I naturally more see the negative side of things, and I can tell that doesn’t really bless my sweet husband. 

So I’m learning as I’m reading this, but I’m also seeing in him how this is done and what a difference kindness makes in a relationship.

We’re picking up this conversation about The Kindness Challenge. For those who didn’t pick this up yesterday, remind us of the three aspects of The Kindness Challenge. I just want to say, some of our listeners will say, “That sounds familiar.”

Because it’s similar to The 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge that we’ve issued for years and that you took off on and expanded and developed and came up with what I think is such a really powerful Kindness Challenge.

Shaunti: Yes, seriously. I say it’s all your fault that I ended up doing this big research study! But seriously, those of you who are familiar with The Husband Encouragement Challenge, you’ll recognize the core of this.

What you do is, you pick one person you want a better relationship with. Maybe it’s your marriage. Maybe it’s not a difficult marriage; maybe you’ve got a good marriage but you just want to make it better. Or your child, or the colleague who drives you nuts, or your mother-in-law. 

There are often these relationships that we would really like to have as a positive one. 

Nancy: Even in a good relationship, I’m finding now—with just a year-and-a-half or so of marriage—that it’s easy to just start to take people for granted. It’s easy to fall into habit patterns that you didn’t even realize you fell into.

Shaunti: Oh, totally! Yes.

Nancy: We’re going to talk today about how we don’t realize how much we need this, in some ways. But . . . what is the “this”?

Shaunti: So the “this” is three things that you do for thirty days. First, you say nothing negative about them—either to them, or about them to somebody else.

Nancy: Nix the negativity.

Shaunti: Nix the negativity. Yes.

Nancy: We’re going to talk more about that today.

Shaunti: Second, you look for something and you find something every day that you can sincerely praise, you can sincerely affirm. And you tell that person, and you tell somebody else about them.

Nancy: Right.

Shaunti: And then, third is to do a little action of generosity every day for them. Those three things together are The 30-Day Kindness Challenge. The core of them started because of your Husband Encouragement Challenge, and we just took it one step further and did all the research to basically prove how smart you were! 

Nancy: You fleshed it out. You give wonderful examples and explanations about why these things are helpful—why they really make a difference—and you give a lot of practical handles on how to do this. So we want to talk about some of those.

You start with this thing—which I realized years ago was so important—that we become critical, fault-finding of the people we love the most, the people we are the closest to. Sometimes we treat people we hardly know better than the people that we do life with.

Now as a married woman I’m seeing this, and how easy it is to fall into these negative-thinking, seeing, talking habit patterns. And you’re saying we’ve got to nix the negativity.

Shaunti: We are completely blind, in most cases. Because most of us, like you said right out front, “I can have a negative tendency; it tends to come out.” I would have said exactly the opposite. I would have said, “Oh, no! I’m a kind person.”

I know you value kindness, but I would have said, “Of all the things that I need to work on, kindness, that’s not one of them! I need to work more on saying affirmative praise, maybe, or doing those actions of generosity, but—pfft!—I’ve got that non-negativity thing covered.” Oh, my word!

Nancy: What made you realize that you weren’t as far on that as you thought?

Shaunti: Once I started cataloging all the types of negativity for this research study, I started seeing all the different patterns. We identified, essentially, that there are seven really, really individual, distinct, different patterns of negativity that come out in our words, our actions, and our thoughts. They come out of our mouths without us realizing it . . . or our body language . . . or our tone. Unfortunately, we all have at least one of them. Some of us have more than one. I realized, I’m negative every single day, because one of the patterns of negativity is exasperation, and I get exasperated with my kids all the time.

For example, I have a fourteen-year-old son; he’s in eighth grade. He’ll spend a couple hours on some big homework project . . . and then . . . he forgets to turn it in! And it’s like, “Are you kidding me? Buddy, (and my voice is rising) I can’t believe you forgot!” That sort of tone. I don’t realize that what I’m saying is, “You’re an idiot!”

Nancy: That’s what he’s hearing.

Shaunti: Well, it’s actually what I’m saying with my tone. Would I ever use those actual words with my sensitive fourteen-year-old son? Of course not. But that is what I’m saying. 

Everybody has one, and it’s so important for us to identify what ours is, because it tends to come out in all of our relationships—not just this one—but this is our chance to use this. It’s basically a boot camp for kindness, using this one effort and this one relationship for thirty days to not say anything negative.

And that means, for me, withholding all exasperation. Suddenly, I had no idea how often I had that tone—not just now with my kids, but I use that tone with my husband or my colleague, if she’s taking too long to explain something. I have that irritation in my voice. I could easily make the same point without that irritation in my voice.

Nancy: You gave an illustration in your book that I totally related to, because I’ve “been there, done that.” That was when you were on the phone with a customer service rep about a bill. I’m going to make you tell that story.

Shaunti: Ohhh, Nancy, that is just the most embarrassing thing! But, yes, I’ll tell you and all my “best friends.” This is a perfect example of how it comes out everywhere. You know those cases where you’re on the phone to switch a—in this case it was an error on a bill. It should have taken three minutes—maybe—for them to fix it. 

An hour later, you’re still on the phone, and you’ve been transferred around and around and around. Exasperation like my head was exploding! I stopped trying to hide my exasperation—let’s just put it that way—because, you know, by the sixth time that you’ve had to repeat your name, address, social security number and all your answers to your security questions you’re like, “Really?”

And, finally, I get to the last lady, and I apologize. I’m like, “I’m sorry. I’m just really frustrated! This has been a really long hour, and it should have been three minutes!” And she’s like, “I understand,” and she was working very quickly, and she was competent. She fixed it. She figured out what was wrong.

She asked, “Have I resolved the issue to your satisfaction, Mrs. Feldhahn?”

“Yes! Thank you, thank you very much!!”

“Thank you for allowing me to serve you. And, oh—by the way—I loved your book.”

Nancy: Oh-h!!

Shaunti: Just picture me like, honestly, wanting to sit in a corner with my thumb in my mouth, rocking. I was so mortified! And then, here’s what I realized: I was mortified because somehow, in my stupid pride, I had this idea that probably she had this image of me that completely got trashed, because I was so irritated.

But then I realized, that’s not why I should be mortified; that’s not why I should be embarrassed. I’m an ambassador of Jesus Christ. I’m supposed to show His kindness in every situation—and I failed miserably that day.

So as hard as it was, once I realized that this was my pattern of negativity, I actually welcomed the chance to try to overcome it with this one relationship—trying to do The 30-Day Kindness Challenge and really, truly being willing to have my eyes opened.

It’s not easy, but once you’re willing and you try this, you really will see it and stop it. You really become much more that kind person you already thought you were.

Nancy: I think it means, often, having to humble ourselves and go back to that person we had that tone of voice with—that hasty, irritated, fault-finding (whatever) response—and just stop and say, “This is not okay. I sinned against that person. I sinned against the Lord.” And then to ask, especially with the people we live with in our homes—our family, kids, our co-workers . . . I was a single woman for many years, so most of my relationships were in the workplace.

I can go out and speak, and on the platform be this kind, gracious person. I can stand in a line talking to women for four hours after a speaking engagement and be gracious to every last one. But then I get into the office, and with the people who know me (and they’re gonna take it) I can be short or impatient or exasperated.

In fact, as we’re talking about this, I’m thinking about something that happened today where somebody didn’t follow through on something, and I was just so frustrated. Well, I need to be willing in those situations—when I’ve communicated that with my words or my tone—to go back and say, “I was so wrong. Please forgive me.”

I think if we commit to doing that when we blow it, we’re going to blow it less often.

Shaunti: Also, we’ll see it when it happens, as opposed to being totally blind—which is truly, I think, statistically the crux of what we were seeing. Most of us just don’t see it!

It was interesting, actually, on the survey—ninety-five percent of the people said that suddenly they were aware of these things. It just had been bypassing them before. And maybe in the back of your mind you kind of know it at that time. But, actually, there are situations that you wouldn’t even think of as negativity at all.

Like, you can see how exasperation and irritation—you could see how that would come into that category. But another one of the patterns of negativity, that a lot of people don’t even see that way, is sarcasm.

Like I said, there are seven of these, and that’s another one. I was speaking with a pastor this weekend. I do a lot of pastoral interviews, where they bring me in and interview me on stage as a sermon time. And the pastor of this church said, “But that’s my spiritual gift!”—sarcasm.

Something that's a lot of us who think, “Okay, wait, are you saying I can’t have a sense of humor? That’s not right!” And here’s what we found: Sarcasm so easily becomes this shorthand where we think it’s funny, but in the back of our mind, we know that there’s maybe a little bit of truth. We're making a point, and we’re using humor to sort of disguise it.

Actually, what we found in the research is that if you and the other person (and anybody else listening) knows that there’s 100 percent goodwill (between you and that other person—whoever it is you’re joking with), then it’s just a joke! And then it’s just funny, ha-ha-ha, you know.

But, if there’s any doubt about that, if there’s not 100 percent certainty that there’s unconditional love and goodwill (and even if there is and it happens a lot), suddenly that other person starts to . . . They’re laughing, they think it’s funny, but somewhere in the back of their mind they’re thinking, Did she mean that? Did he mean that?

They start to build a wall. We found you start to build a wall to protect your heart—which we would do too, in that situation. And so, suddenly, it doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all joking. But if you take The 30-Day Kindness Challenge, and sarcasm tends to be your thing, try getting rid of it for thirty days with this person. You’ll see how often you did it unconsciously!

Nancy: As you’re talking, I’m thinking about a verse in Ephesians chapter 4 that I think applies here (v. 29): “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” 

That’s God standard for us, right? And you think about Christ: only good, edifying, pure words—grace-giving words—came out of His mouth. Sometimes we’ll justify some of that corrupting talk, and we’ll think, I don’t really mean anything by it!

Shaunti: Or, I’m just joking, and everybody knows.

Nancy: But are we building up? Does it fit the occasion and does it give grace to the person who hears it?

Shaunti: You know, I never thought of that verse—in conversation with anybody—I’ve never applied that verse to sarcasm. It’s so true! “But only what is good for building up . . .” Because sarcasm, by definition, for it to be sarcasm, it’s tearing the other person down just a little bit.

There’s no reason to give up your sense of humor. Just keep an eye on whether that happens a lot and whether the other person knows that you love them and you care for them unconditionally. Because then they won’t see it as you not giving them grace. They won’t see it as you not building them up but tearing them down. When it happens a lot, then it does start to introduce that doubt.

Nancy: Yes. What’s one of those other negative types of talk that we need to watch out for?

Shaunti: Let me tell you. So, there’s another one that tends to be mine as well (like I said, some of us have more than one of these patterns). Another one is “catastrophizing”—which, I didn’t even know was a word.

Nancy: I’m thinking you invented that word! 

Shaunti: I actually had to look it up. I was describing it and somebody said, “Oh no, that’s ‘catastrophizing.’” I was like, “What?” I never heard the word before.

Nancy: Explain.

Shaunti: Yeah. It’s essentially this pattern (which I have in full measure, and I think the whole country has had when it comes to politics), which is: “If this happens, it’s gonna be a catastrophe! If such-and-such gets elected or doesn’t get elected, it’s going to be a catastrophe! If this thing doesn’t happen, or if these people don’t do this, it’s going to be a catastrophe! If this injustice isn’t remedied, it’s going to be a catastrophe! If my daughter marries her boyfriend, it’s going to be a catastrophe!”

Now, I’m not disputing, maybe, that there could be a catastrophe. That’s not the point. The point is, for many of us, trying to confront that catastrophe, we become remarkably unkind people all of a sudden.

Nancy: Shrill.

Shaunti: Shrill, and incredibly mean, sometimes. We say things—on social media for example—we would never in a million years say out loud. We stop looking like Jesus—in a hurry sometimes. We stop sounding like Him. Because in our mind we’re confronting this incredibly urgent catastrophe. Okay. How did Jesus confront those things? You have the examples.

Everybody says, “Well, look. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables! He used whips to drive them out of the temple!” Well, and it’s like, “Yes, the religious people.” He was actually confronting the judgmental religious people when He did that.

And with the people who were broken and the people who were sinning and the people who were blind, He was gentle. Now, He was strong; He said some pretty strong things. But I can’t imagine our Lord ever going in this agitated way, “I have to confront this or it’s going to be a catastrophe, and I can be unkind in confronting it.”

Nancy: The New Testament had a lot of illustrations of theological issues, doctrinal issues, moral issues, things they had to face, and things the apostles had to deal with that were serious. There are serious things happening in our world—there always have been.

It’s interesting to me that Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:24–25:

The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome [and, by the way, that’s what we’re supposed to be—the Lord’s servants, right?] but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.

If we become combative in the face of evil and people who are off-target, off-track, rather than kind and patient and gentle, we may forfeit the opportunity to be used by God to be means of redemption, a means of people coming to repentance.

Shaunti: Well, and let’s just think of it for a second. Maybe not 100 percent, but most of the things we that we are so passionate about—and let’s say rightly passionate about (for example, some of the theological errors that were coming in the New Testament, things they really felt strongly about confronting), those really need to be confronted. That’s salvation at stake!

And so, today, those things that we are passionate about, it is so critical for us to go, “Okay, how likely is it that achieving this thing that I am so passionate about is more important than my witness of the manner and the love and the kindness of Jesus to the people I’m interacting with?”

And the answer, sometimes, might be that it is more important. I don’t know. I mean, I can’t imagine a situation—but you could see how there could be some hypothetical situation where that happens.

The vast majority of cases—actually, the situations that we’re in—God wants us to “be Jesus” on those situations, and it is really difficult to do that when we’re being shrill and unkind.

Nancy: And the shrillness and the lack of kindness is not effective. It doesn’t work!

Shaunti: It doesn’t work anyway.

Nancy: I read this last week in Proverbs 16:21: “Sweetness of speech [the lips] increases persuasiveness [learning].”

Sometimes we think—I think especially of a lot of moms who are day in and day out, and the kids not getting it . . . I’ve heard a parent say, “Sometimes you just have to raise your voice and get a little more negative or nasty to get your point across.” Sweetness of the lips increases persuasiveness.

Shaunti: And which is more important? Getting your point across, or being kind?

Nancy: But you don’t even get your point across if you’re not kind.

Shaunti: Exactly, but that’s what we often have to wrestle with. Not only are we not getting the point across . . . Is it that crucial that my son gets to school on time. He’s going to get his fifth tardy, and he’s going to have to go to detention. Okay. And . . .? Is that worth you being unkind?

Nancy: Right. It’s interesting, James 1:19 says we should listen much, speak little, and not get angry. 

Shaunti: I’m so not good at that.

Nancy: I need that verse daily. But then the follow-up, James 1:20. It says for the wrath of man does not work—or bring about—the righteousness of God. The things we want to see accomplished don’t happen by that shrill angry hasty talk.

I think we’re seeing in our whole culture such a huge lack of civility. You mentioned the political arena. We see that in people. Tensions are running high, tempers are flaring, and we all have strong opinions on these things. I think it’s valuable and valid—in the appropriate times and ways—to express those opinions and to try and persuade. But to do it with an ornery cantankerous, angry, hasty, shrill, unkind spirit . . . And you’re right, the Internet is where so much of this happens! You’ve probably been on the receiving end of that.

Shaunti: As have you, probably.

Nancy: Absolutely. Sometimes I’m going, “Okay, I said something on this program, and it didn’t agree with . . .” I’m not perfect. I’m not God. But then the response you get back . . . I’m going, “Wow! Does that person think she rules the whole world?”

And I do the same thing sometimes with my tone, with my spirit, and it really does come down to p-r-i-d-e.

Shaunti: Yes, it really does.

Nancy: Pride. The humble person doesn’t talk that way. And so, if we want to be representatives of the heart and spirit of Jesus, we’ve got to nix this negativity! I’m so glad you’ve challenged us on that. You give us a lot more practical examples and points about how to do that. Sometimes negative things do need to be said, but they can be said in a way that’s building up.

Shaunti: They can be said in a way that’s building up, and, frankly, as you start this, you can actually see this feels better. I mean, you can actually feel the Holy Spirit working through you when you do those things.

Nancy: Because you’re not giving yourself ulcers.

Shaunti: Yes, and not giving yourself ulcers. I hope everybody can go and identify their pattern of negativity, because it really is deep inside of us. It’s sin, right? And once you do that and just resolve that you’re going to try to see this, to try to overcome this, you will see you’re building others up. It just feels better, because you’re really not working counter to what the Holy Spirit wants to do.

Nancy: I fact, with that I would like just like to pray, because we can’t do this without the power of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.

So, Lord, as we listen today, as we have this conversation and others are listening in on our conversation, many of us are thinking, There’s this pattern in my life; there’s this negativity. If we’re not sure, we could ask the people we’re closest with, and they can tell us the truth, if we’ll really listen.

And so, Lord, once we see this (we need Your help to see it in ourselves), we need the help and the power of Your Holy Spirit living in us to change us. For some of us, we’re thinking, Thirty days in this tough relationship without saying negative things to or about that person . . . That sounds impossible to some of us—especially to those in a tough marriage, in a tough relationship in the workplace.

Lord, I’m just praying You would pour out grace—as you promise You will do—on those who are willing to humble themselves and say, “Lord, it’s me. I need You! I need Your grace. I can’t do this without You. Help me in my marriage. Help me in my workplace. Help me in those places where I get squeezed and what naturally comes out is something negative and critical and exasperated and irritated.”

Lord, would You change us from the inside out, and would our lives so reflect the loveliness, the kindness, the goodness, the beauty of Christ that people will be drawn to Him because of what they see in us. I pray in Jesus’ Name, amen.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth talking with Shaunti Feldhahn. They’ve asked each of us to do something so important: to identify the areas of unkindness that most affect us. To help you figure this out, we’d like to send you Shaunti’s book, The Kindness Challenge.

She’ll show you why kindness is a superpower. She’ll help you think through types of negativity you might have, and then she’ll take you through a thirty-day process of using that superpower to bring about closer relationships.

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount, we’ll say "thanks" by sending The Kindness Challenge. Ask for it when you call 1–800–569–5959 or visit

Tomorrow we’ll get more in-depth about how The Kindness Challenge can have a big effect on marriages. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.