Revive Our Hearts Podcast

The Power of Kindness in Your Relationships

Leslie Basham: Shaunti Feldhan tells the story of a husband and wife who invited his cantankerous mother to come live with them.

Shaunti Feldhan: For years this wife just decided, “I’m going to be gentle and kind and generous, and I’m just going to take what she gives me. I’ll have my boundaries, but I’m not going to respond in kind.”

Leslie: Hear the end of the story today on Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, co-author of True Woman 201. It’s Tuesday, August 29, 2017.

Today’s program was recorded on the road in Atlanta, so you’ll notice it doesn’t quite sound like our normal studio. But don’t let that distract you from this important conversation.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, I am so thankful to be sitting down in a studio with Atlanta today talking with an old-time friend. We connected some years ago. You’ve heard Shaunti Feldhan on Revive Our Hearts talking about her book, For Women Only.

Shaunti, I read and was so helped by that book years ago when I was a single woman, and now I’m a married woman. And I was realizing today, “I need to go back and re-read that book.”

Shaunti: Oh, a very fun idea. Yes.

Nancy: But I remember a whole bunch of principles, and I’ve recommended that book to many women over the years. I’ve shared the principles with other women, and now I’m getting to live it out in a whole new—and wonderful—way, I might add!

Shaunti is an author. She’s a speaker. She’s a researcher par-excellence. And I love the way your mind works. You think about things most people don’t think about. Then you put it into little, bite-sized chunks and insights that are so helpful.

I’m really thankful you’ve written this new book we’re here to talk about today. So, welcome to Revive Our Hearts.

Shaunti: I’m delighted especially to be with you given this topic.

Nancy: It’s great to re-connect. Robert and I flew in just a few minutes ago. We’re here for some other engagements, and I contacted you a few months ago and said, “I’d love to talk to you about your new book.” And we were able to arrange the schedule to do this today.

Shaunti: I’m so thrilled, especially since you’re mostly responsible for the book, Nancy.

Nancy: Oh, well, let’s talk about that! Thank you.

The book is called The Kindness Challenge: 30 Days to Improve Any Relationship. And I just want to say off-the-bat that this book is chock-full of practical, helpful insight and bites of wisdom that, if applied, will make a difference in any relationship. The Kindness Challenge.

Now, you’re saying that a conversation we had some time ago had a part in how you came to write this book. So, tell us that story.

Shaunti: It had a huge part.

People always ask me, “How did you start this particular research project?” This, you know, is the eighth one I’ve done. I always say, “It’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth’s fault. It’s all her fault!”

Because, yes, a number of years ago when I was in a studio with you talking about For Women Only, about understanding men, you said, “We have a lot of women who listen to the program who, from time to time, they might have pretty significant relationship issues. They might be hurting.”

Nancy: I hear it all the time.

Shaunti: Yes. I’m sure you do.

You said, “I want to really issue them a challenge.” And you called it “The 30-Day Challenge,” or the  “Husband Encouragement Challenge.”

Nancy: I want to say that has been huge with our listeners. Anybody who has listened to Revive Our Hearts for any length of time is familiar with that.

Shaunti: And for very good reason.

I was so struck by that, which we can explain in a minute, but I was so struck by it. And I was, as you know, a researcher, not a counselor.

Nancy: Right.

Shaunti: And so, because I was not a counselor, I would get questions at the women’s events I spoke at, or as I speak at churches, and sometimes I didn’t know how to answer these questions because I’m not a therapist.

Nancy: Well, people are in tough, tough, tough places.

Shaunti: Yes. Tough situations. I would always go, “Oh, man,” and I would be able to get part way there, and I would have to study a little more.

Then one day I was speaking at an event in Colorado, and this woman asked a question that I’d heard many times before, and I didn’t know how to answer before then.

She said, “I know you say that my husband’s greatest need is to know that I appreciate him, that I respect him. But what if I don’t? There’s all these issues.” And she described a pretty significant marriage issue. There were some addictions and some other issues. And they were really on the verge of separating, and she was just heartbroken.

I said, “Look, I’m not a counselor, so I don’t know your individual situation, but let me share with you something that Nancy DeMoss shared with me just recently.” And I shared the Husband Encouragement Challenge. I said, “Just try this for thirty days.”

And she said, “Okay.” You could tell she wasn’t very happy about it.

And then, I fly away, just like you. You go to an event, and then you leave. You’re in and out, and you don’t necessarily hear the end of the story.

Three years later I was back in the same state—different side of the state, completely different area—at another woman’s event, and another woman asked a very similar question. And by then, I had been so intrigued by their responses that I was seeing through this, that I had actually started some research on this. And I said, “Just try this.” It was a little bit fleshed out different things. We were calling it, “The 30-day Kindness Challenge.” It was not just for husbands but for anybody.

And she said, “Okay.”

She sat down, and another woman raised her hand. She didn’t have a question. She actually looked at the woman first, and she said, “If you do that, what she just said, you’ll find it changes everything.”

Then she looked at me, and she said, “You’re not going to remember me, but three years ago you came to my church in a different part of the state. You gave me a very similar answer. Everything in me wanted to ignore everything you said. But I didn’t want my kids to grow up in a broken home, and so I did it. And it changed everything.”

She started to cry. And, of course, I’m starting to cry at this point. She said,

I had no idea until I started this effort to be one-sided in this way for thirty days, just to give my husband this kindness and to withhold the sort of negativity that had been coming out of me. I had no idea how much negativity there was. I had no idea how often it was. It wasn’t just him that was the problem. It was me!

And suddenly, because I was suddenly aware of this, he softened, and he responded less defensively because I wasn’t making him defensive. So he started showing that kindness back to me, and that made it easier to show him. It started this positive cycle. And three years later, we love being married!

It’s not like it’s magic. It’s just the way God works when you do these things and try these one-sided efforts to do what you can do.

We’ve all heard the power of a one-sided effort, but honestly, Nancy, the core of, “The 30-Day Kindness Challenge,” is what you came up with. I started to research it because I was so struck by it. I really think it’s not just any one-sided effort, it’s that specifically that’s so powerful.

Nancy: Well, it’s the transforming power of love, of grace, of generosity, of kindness.

Shaunti: Yes, yes.

Nancy: All of which is a portrait of Jesus. Right?

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: And how it changes the dance step in a relationship.

I’m thinking, as you’re talking . . . It’s probably been, I don’t know, ten or fifteen years since we first started issuing this 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge. And I have a document on my laptop with hundreds of pages of cut-and-pasted emails that I’ve received. 

Shaunti: Oh, I bet you do!

Nancy: They are from women over the years sharing what a difference this made in their relationship, with their mate generally. People have applied it differently, and you apply it more broadly in your book, which I’m so thankful for.

I’ve told women over the years, “Your husband may not change in thirty days. But you will change. You will see him differently, and there’s a good chance that his heart will soften and change.” And we’ve seen that.

We’ve seen romance rekindled. We’ve seen reconciliation. Restoration. Just hope restored. Just starting to look at him through different eyes—God’s eyes—the eyes of love. It really makes a huge difference.

Shaunti: Well, the reason that is so transformative is it gives people something really, really simple that they can do instead of feeling helpless, like flailing around.

Do you mind if we say what The 30-Day Kindness Challenge is?

Nancy: No, let’s do it!

Shaunti: Because it helps give people a hook.

So, it started with the basic you came up with, but here’s what it is:

You pick one person that you want a better relationship with.

Now, we should say, because you started with the husbands, and that’s certainly the majority of people who do it. We’ve found statistically that’s the majority, but it’s not the only option. There are some people, like, I’ve been doing this with my teenage daughter. She’s a great kid, but she’s a teenager. She can roll her eyes with the best of them. My head wants to explode.

You can either do it with a spouse or maybe you’ve got a boyfriend that you’re kind of concerned about things and you want to signal something positive.

Nancy: Could it be an employer?

Shaunti: It could be. Yes.

Nancy: Someone in the work place?

Shaunti: Sure. There’s plenty of people who have a boss they want to strangle.

Nancy: And, actually, it doesn’t have to be a bad relationship even.

Shaunti: No. It can even be a good one. You just want to make it better.

So here’s what you do:

You pick one person—and we actually, by the way, found it was actually important to pick just one. There’s the temptation to try to do it really broadly. We found it’s actually, certainly, good for everybody around you, but it doesn’t change your heart as much.

Nancy: That’s interesting.

Shaunti: Because you’re not focused on it. So we actually say, “Pick one person to begin with. Do it for everybody else later. And do three things every day for thirty days.”

First: Don’t say anything negative about that person—either to them or about them to somebody else. And anybody who has heard your “Husband Encouragement Challenge” has heard that one.

That, honestly, is one of the key pivot points because we ended up doing a big long study for the last couple of years on these elements to see what worked, what didn’t, and why. And that one thing, about not saying negative to somebody else about them, it turns out is a huge deal because that’s often where we sort of subconsciously sabotage how we feel about the relationship.

Nancy: Right.

Shaunti: Because if I’m in a difficult place with my husband, I can be pretty polite to him, but if I’m going to my girlfriends at work . . .

Nancy: Girlfriend talk. Right?

Shaunti: I’m, like, “Oh, he has promised he’d do this, and he didn’t,” or whatever it is. I don’t realize it, but I’m sabotaging how I feel about him. And, by the way, I am training myself to be an unkind person. We don’t think of it that way, but that’s what we’re doing. So that’s the first thing: Nothing negative to them or about them.

Second thing: Every day for thirty days, find one thing that you can sincerely praise, sincerely affirm, and tell that person, and tell somebody else.

Nancy: Right. So you’re replacing the negative with a positive.

Shaunti: Also very familiar to people who have heard the 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge.

And, it’s interesting, because that dynamic is so powerful because, essentially, what you’re doing is what God says to do in Philippians 4:8. Right?

Nancy: Exactly.

Shaunti: To think on and focus on those things that are excellent and lovely and worthy of praise, rather than what’s worthy of driving you crazy.  Because those things are still going to be there, trust me, in any relationship.

Nancy: I sometimes say to women, “You may not be able to think of thirty things positive to say about or to affirm about your husband. Then just think of one thing and say it every day for thirty days.”

Shaunti: Exactly. It’s amazing when you start to think about: What are those praise-worthy qualities?

Nancy: What attracted you to him in the first place? Especially thinking in the marriage context, and to pull that out, to focus on it. It doesn’t make the negative things go away. But it gives you a different perspective.

Shaunti: A completely different perspective. And, actually, I’ll give you a little example of a woman I was talking to. She came up, and she showed me a little, small notebook, about one of those 4-inch size notebooks. She was carrying it around in her purse.

She said, “I was carrying this around for one reason, and one reason only”—because she had been doing The 30-Day Kindness Challenge. She said, “When I heard that you were talking about this, I couldn’t think of anything. And so, (she said), I have to carry around a notebook with me, and any time I catch him doing something that I can praise, I’ll write it down so I can bank them because I don’t know if I’m going to find something tomorrow, so I’ll refer to something that’s in my notebook from yesterday.”

And she had this list.

Nancy: That’s great!

Shaunti: And she said, “Look!” And she flipped the page, and it was full. And she flipped the next page, and it was full. And she said, “I had no idea how many wonderful things that I was missing.”

Nancy: Until she started looking for them.

Shaunti: Yes, Until she started looking for them and started writing them down, with the purpose, originally, of just having something that she could refer to on the next day because she didn’t think she could find anything that day. And, instead, she has this list of dozens and dozens and dozens of these things.

Nancy: That’s so sweet.

Shaunti: She is so touched by that and so convicted by realizing how often her thoughts had been negative.

Nancy: And I can tell you, if she’s touched, she’s got a husband that’s a happy camper!

Shaunti: Exactly!

I feel the same way about my daughter, honestly. I did not realize how often my words were, “Well, why didn’t you do this?” or “What about that?” or “You didn’t turn that in yet?” I didn’t realize how often I didn’t say those words of praise, and it makes a difference.

So those are the first two things. The third thing you do every day for thirty days is to do a little action of kindness, a little action of generosity.

So, for my daughter, for example, I’ll be at the computer working on a deadline, and she’ll come in, and she’ll be, like, “Hey, Mom!” And she’ll want to show me this little YouTube video, this little five-minute funny thing that she found. I could legitimately say, “Honey, I’ve got to get this out the door.”

But I recognize that, if I pull back, it’s just five minutes, and if I take a moment right then, instead of saying, “Could we do that in an hour?” If I take that five minutes right then, it’s an action of generosity.

Nancy: It’s a huge gift to her.

Shaunti: It is. It’s little, a small, little, bitty thing to me. To her, it speaks volumes. It says, “You’re valuable.”

Nancy: Yes.

Shaunti: It says all these things to the other person. We had more than 750 people in our study group over the last couple of years. When we went back and tested all these different elements of this and landed on these three things, doing them for thirty days, we found that 89% of relationships improved among people who did this—89%!

Nancy: Not surprisingly, really.

Shaunti: Well, not surprisingly to you, because you’ve been seeing it all these years with the Husband Encouragement Challenge, but I’ll tell you, in social research, that is a huge number. And, actually, I will confess: Originally, I thought my spreadsheet was broken! I thought there was something wrong.

And then I realized, “Wait a minute! Actually, it makes perfect sense because what we’re doing is certainly impacting the other person. Absolutely. But, as you said, the biggest thing you’re doing is changing you. So if you’re changing, of course there’s a huge chance of the relationship changing.

Nancy: It really says that God’s ways work.

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: There’s power in truth. There’s power in the fruit of the Spirit, in saying “yes” to God’s ways—which doesn’t mean that every hard relationship will become easy or that it’s going to be a cake walk from here on out. But it does say that when we fear the Lord and follow His ways that that helps human relationships.

Shaunti: It’s amazing as I look at the power of this. What I realized, as I was analyzing this, what was so powerful about the Husband Encouragement Challenge? Obviously, that started the whole thing off. What is it about this that is so transformational? It’s so explosive. It leads to you having dozens and dozens and dozens of pages of people emailing you.

Nancy: Hundreds!

Shaunti: Hundreds of pages of people emailing you and telling you about these amazing stories. What is it? As I looked at this, I realized: It’s kindness. That’s what this is!

Nancy: At first blush you think of kindness as not a huge thing. It’s sort of vague, sort of minor in the whole scheme of virtues, and gentle. But you talk about kindness as actually having super powers.

Shaunti: Yes. I’m sorry, this is really nerdy, but in our family, we’re like Marvel Superhero kind of people. We love those Marvel movies. I hope I’m not the only one listening who likes this. But we’ve got a joke: “Don’t you wish you had a super power?” As a mom, I want to see through walls, I’ll just say. But we joke about that. Everybody has a super power they would have.

I was watching one of those movies with my kids while I was in the middle of this research, and I realized: You know what? God has already given us a super power. It’s called kindness.

Kindness, as we’ve seen in this study, is incredibly supernatural in its impact.

Nancy: And that makes sense because kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It’s the power of God living inside of us.

Shaunti: Exactly!

Nancy: So, again, that makes total sense.

Shaunti: Yes. It makes total sense. And it’s interesting because, when we started cataloging and trying to think: What are the things that are supernatural in a literal sense, that don’t make sense from a natural standpoint? What are those things that we’ve seen in this study?

We catalogued a bunch of what we call the superpowers of kindness, and I’ll just give you an example of one of them, using, of course, the superhero wording that kindness makes you bulletproof. Everybody has probably been in this situation, but put yourself in these shoes for just a second:

You’re driving along the highway, and suddenly it’s one of those where there’s construction. Two lanes go down to one. Okay? You’re getting in line. You’re waiting your turn. Then there’s always that one car that doesn’t want to wait their turn, and they’re speeding down the lane, down the side, to try to horn in and try to get in without waiting their turn.

It’s like, “Ugh. It’s not fair!” Everything in me just goes crazy at that. I’m agitated, and I’m upset. I’m, like, “No you don’t!” I’m pulling up on the bumper on the car in front of me. “You are NOT getting in here!” I’m agitated! It’s like that person is firing bullets at me, and they are hitting.

Nancy: They’re succeeding.

Shaunti: They are succeeding at making me crazy.

Now, imagine one thing has changed. Imagine the same situation. They speed down to the end, and you see them try to push their way in. They don’t deserve it. There’s absolutely nothing about this that is fair. But you say, “Okay.” And you back off a little bit, and you wave them in, maybe with a smile.

What happens? Suddenly the weight has just lifted off of your shoulders. That agitation has gone away. It doesn’t exist. That person is still firing bullets.

Nancy: But it’s not working.

Shaunti: They’re bouncing off. You have taken away that person’s power to make you crazy just because you decided to be kind in a situation where it’s completely undeserved.

Nancy: That certainly has power. And that is supernatural.

You talk about kindness having the power to melt walls.

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: I would imagine that’s really important in relationships where people feel stuck. They feel like there are huge barriers that they don’t know how to get over, and whatever they’ve been doing hasn’t been working. How does kindness enter in there?

Shaunti: There are so many stories that we heard during the research. It reminds me of the phrase that’s attributed to Albert Einstein, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result.”

Nancy: Right.

Shaunti: Let’s get past that. Let’s jump out of that and try something else. What I’ve seen is that when you are in a difficult situation, and you have those walls up, the other person has walls up against you, usually. Now, maybe you don’t have any walls, but that other person sure does.

What we saw over and over again is that kindness really does have the power to melt through those walls and touch the other person’s heart. I’ll give you a quick example.

One of the people we were talking to had a very, very difficult mother-in-law relationship, and this husband and wife were caring for his elderly mother. It was one of those where she, honestly, was like the wicked step-mother. I mean, she was just a mean, grouchy, cantankerous person.

And for years, this wife just decided, “I’m going to be gentle and kind and generous, and I’m just going to take what she gives me. I’ll have my boundaries, but I’m not going to respond in kind.”

That went on for years. She would not raise her voice. She just loved her. And suddenly, five or six years later, it was the weirdest thing. She said, “It was like a switch flipped. Suddenly, she started getting softer and started asking questions about God and started asking questions about: ‘Can I go to church with you?’”

Nancy: Wow!

Shaunti: It was this softening that God really did because of this woman’s constant, unconditional kindness when it really was not deserved in any way.

Nancy: And persevering in it!

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: How tempting would it have been to quit the project before you ever got to that point?

Shaunti: I know! Can you imagine five years of basically abuse?

Nancy: With no reason.

Shaunti: She was an invalid. It’s not like they could put her out in the street. So she said, “Since this is the way it’s got to be, I am going to do what I can do. I’m going to try to look like Jesus to her.” And Jesus won her heart.

And she, literally, went from being the most difficult, grouchy person they knew to being the sweetest and kindest person that they knew. It was one of those where, in the evening, before they went to bed, she would say things before like, “Goodnight, Mom.”

“What’s good about it?” (mean tone) Literally, that’s how difficult she was.

And then suddenly, they would say, “Goodnight, Mom. We’ll see you in the morning.”

“I hope. I hope, if I don’t go to be with Jesus.”

Nancy: Oh, what a transformation!

Shaunti: It was a total transformation.

What happened there? Kindness, the kindness of this woman, that love of Christ, melted through that woman’s walls. Did she lower her walls? No. It melted a hole straight through them and touched her heart, even when she didn’t want her heart to be touched because kindness has that power.

It doesn’t break them down. It melts through them and touches a heart whether they want to be touched or not.

Nancy: And that’s really the gospel, that the kindness of God brings us to repentance. It softens our hearts. It lowers our walls.

We were resistant against God. We were hateful and spiteful. But the kindness of God our Savior appeared. The grace of God appeared. That’s what brings us to repentance.

Shaunti: Yes.

Nancy: So when we become instruments, vessels, conduits of His kindness to others, it brings them in touch with Christ.

Shaunti: Here’s the cool thing about not just that story, but every other example I’ve seen. They could tell at the beginning of the softening, but she was fighting it. She was trying to keep that wall up.

Nancy: It’s irresistible.

Shaunti: That kindness kept melting through. She kept having to build the wall back up again, and kindness melted right through it again. And finally, most people just say, “This is too exhausting to try to keep up this cantankerous thing where I don’t like you anymore. I’m just going to let my walls down.”

And so that’s, really, honestly, what you see when you see Jesus woo the heart of someone. It is that: “I’m just going to keep loving you no matter how poorly you behave.”

Nancy: We’re talking with Shaunti Feldhan about The Kindness Challenge.

As we’ve been talking, my guess is you’ve been thinking of someone maybe in your family, maybe someone in your workplace or in your church or a neighbor, but someone who is a really hard person. The Lord has been speaking to your heart about taking this Kindness Challenge.

We’re going to continue this conversation and unpack some of these pieces of the challenge, but I want to encourage you to get a copy of this book. We’d be glad to send it to you as our way of saying “thank you” when you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts of any amount.

Give us a call at 1–800–569–5959, or you can visit us online at ReviveOurHearts.com. When you send a donation of any amount, let us know that you’d like the book, The Kindness Challenge, and we’ll be glad to send that to you.

Be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts as we continue this conversation with Shaunti Feldhan about the power of kindness.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants you to see the power of kindness in your life. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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