You maintain that we often confuse niceness with the virtue of kindness. What’s the difference?
Sharon: In a book called Love Kindness, author Barry Corey, offers a definition that I have found to be really helpful. He says that niceness has soft edges and a soft core, while harshness has hard edges and a firm core. Kindness, on the other hand, has soft edges and a firm core. It is loving and gentle, but it also has conviction. It has a spine.
Another way we can tell the difference between niceness and kindness is how we respond when someone doesn’t reciprocate. Niceness flips into resentment almost immediately: “How could they treat me that way! I was so nice!” That’s because niceness is really about you. Kindness, on the other hand, perseveres in love, regardless of whether it is reciprocated, just as God has shown sacrificial kindness to us.
What is the alternative to niceness, the approach to life more aligned with Christ? Are you willing to share one way you struggle with being nice?
Sharon: Niceness is a tempting default for all of us, so I struggle with it often. Especially since it seems so harmless in the moment. But those small moments, those seemingly small choices we make, they determine who we are becoming. In those small moments, we make the choice to either be false, or truthful. To either be cowardly, or courageous. To be honest, or to hide.
I especially feel this temptation in ministry. My husband and I planted a church about a year ago, and when a church is first getting started, you really need all the help you can get! Because of that, it is extremely tempting to say what you think people want to hear, in order to gain more people. It’s tempting to be upbeat and inspiring while avoiding hard or controversial topics. And it’s easy to justify it, because you want your church to survive.
But it’s impossible to do this while holding onto our integrity. It’s also not what’s best for our church or our people. Saying the easy thing is not really the loving or healthy thing, so I have to return to that truth often.
Apparently, we share a “brown” thumb, or the opposite of a green thumb, in which we cannot seem to keep a plant alive. Explain how you apply that as a metaphor for niceness.
Sharon: Yes! I am a plant killer. It’s very sad. I have tried my hardest, but sooner or later they all perish under my care, and this happens again and again for one simple reason: I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to tend to a plant. There are principles and practices, and I don’t know them, and all the good intentions in the world can’t overcome that fact.
I think we face the same dilemma with spiritual growth. People tell us to “be kind” or “be gentle,” but that’s a lot like walking up to an apple tree and shouting, “Bear apples!” That’s not how a farmer grows fruit. He grows fruit by patiently and diligently cultivating it, and our souls are the same. That’s why Jesus refers to kindness and gentleness and love as “fruits.” They are cultivated through spiritual disciplines, and they only spring from a healthy, Christ-rooted soul.
How can readers find your book? What sorts of supplemental material are you producing to go along with it?
Sharon: You can buy Nice anywhere books are sold! Before the book releases, you can access pre-order gifts, which include a free study guide. RightNow Media will also be releasing a video series to supplement the book, and that will have an accompanying Participant’s Guide as well!
Dr. Sharon Hodde Miller is a speaker and the author of Free of Me and Nice. She blogs at She Worships and has been a regular contributor to Propel, She Reads Truth, and Christianity Today. She’s also written for Relevant, The Gospel Project, and (in)courage. She speaks regularly on topics ranging from leadership to body image to Scripture. She has a PhD in Systematic Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She and her husband, Ike, have three children and co-pastor Bright City Church in Durham, NC.
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