There is something about snowstorms that brings out the best in people. A stuck car will quickly attract a group to help push it out. My wife and I often find our neighbour has shovelled our walks before we get to them. After one particularly intense storm, six neighbours got their snowblowers together and worked in tandem to clear the street.
A few days ago, a neighbour and I talked about how these small acts of kindness shape the feeling in our community. Discovering someone has shovelled our snow is always a pleasant surprise. It encourages us to help someone else when we next have the chance. In our neighbourhood the sense of community has grown as people pass on the kindness to others.
In Ephesians 5:2 Paul reminds believers to “live your life with love, following the example of Christ, who loved us and gave himself for us.” Songs like “Magic Penny” describe love as something that grows as it is lent and spent, until it “rolls all over the floor.” Each act of kindness and love builds up, extending its reach and shaping the world around us.
The ripple effects of kind actions may reach far beyond what we might ever anticipate. When I was a kid my parents worked at a community centre in a low-income neighbourhood. I remember them befriending a single mom with young children. The family lived in deep poverty, and you had to wonder how the children would be impacted by the tough situation.
My parents became a strong support for that family. They spent hours on the phone with the mother, hosted the family in our home and accepted hospitality in return. They drew the family into the community centre, helped them access services, connected them with other caring people and welcomed them into the church community.
Over the decades, my parents kept in touch with one of the children. Recently, she wrote about how much that childhood support shaped the person she has become. She shared how compassion, generosity, forgiveness and kindness were things she learned, not only by having them taught to her, but bestowed upon her. She then went on to say how she tries her best to pay it forward in how she lives each day.
Stories of hope like these are part of an overarching vision of the restoration and wholeness of God. While the end transformation may seem dramatic, the difference is made by what we do in the moment. The only actions that are possible for any of us are in the here and now—what we do each day as we look to pass on what we ourselves have received.
Many communion services use the words of invitation from I Corinthians 11:23, where Paul writes, “for I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” How are we passing on what we have received? How are we sharing kindness, caring and love to those around us?
Finally, how might these small acts build into glimpses of God’s vision for the world?
Tim Wiebe-Neufeld is executive minister of Mennonite Church Alberta.