“Tell her thank you,” a mom is coaxing her little girl. The flush-faced four year old looks at the barista, who has just handed her a not-so-hot chocolate, beautifully whipped and drizzled. At four years old she is grateful for the treat, but also nervous. Nervous to speak, nervous of someone she doesn’t know.
“Tell her thank you,” the mom continues, but the little girl doesn’t speak.
Instead, she ducks beneath the counter, looks to her mother, tries to hide.
“Sorry,” the mom apologizes to the Barista. “We’re still trying to train her in basic social graces.
Basic social graces.
Hear me out. I’m not criticizing the mom. The mom was doing a great job of being a mom. She was teaching her daughter how to be polite, which every mom should teach her kids. But as I watched the mom, I got this familiar, uncomfortable feeling. Flash backs to another scene which had taken place, a few hours earlier, in the same location.
He was a regular customer. More regular than most, actually. He came in every day, sometimes multiple times each day in his expensive suit and vibrant tie. He was friendly, confident, always well-dressed and well-spoken. An upstanding citizen.
I was nice, like I am to everyone. I told him hello. I smiled.
I even asked him about his day.
But it didn’t take long before I started to notice that he didn’t treat me like the other customers treated me. He would stare for longer. Talk about his divorce, his dissatisfaction with his sex life. He would touch my hand for just a brief moment in the exchange of money. One day, while I was in the lobby, broom and dust pan in hand, he walked by and put his hand on the small of my back.
It wasn’t malicious. It was really subtle, actually. Most people could have passed it off as “no big deal” and would have told me to forget about it. They would have told me that I was blowing things out of proportion and that he was just being “nice.” I should just be nice back. I understand social graces. Plus, my whole job is to be nice to people and hand them coffee — isn’t it?
But suddenly, I didn’t want to be nice anymore.
In the weeks that followed, when he would come into the coffee shop, I would hide —
Just like the four year old girl, except for instead of ducking under the counter, I would retreat to the back room where I didn’t have to face him because, just like her, I knew that I was supposed to be nice to people, but I didn’t know that being “nice” didn’t mean letting someone take advantage of me. Being “nice” didn’t mean not trusting my instinct with a person.
Somewhere along the way I think I started obeying the Gospel of Niceness instead of the Gospel of Jesus.
Jesus was nice, but he was other things too.
Jesus confronted people’s brokenness, which doesn’t always come across as very nice. When Jesus met the woman a the well, for example, he didn’t avoid her brokenness for the sake of being “nice”. He got right to it. “Go call your husband,” he said, knowing very well that she didn’t have a husband. Even when she admitted she was husband-less, Jesus took it one step further and reminded her (as if she forgot) that she “had five husbands” and that the guy she’s with now wasn’t even her husband.
He didn’t sugar coat it, that’s for sure.
Jesus understood what I so often forget, which is that being “nice” doesn’t mean covering other people’s brokenness. If I cover a wound they have in their life, they can’t notice it, or feel the pain of it, which means they won’t turn to Him for healing.
That isn’t very nice at all.
Also, I think I had failed to realize that being “nice” doesn’t mean meeting every person’s every need. If that were the case, then the call to “niceness” would be an impossible call to meet. Even Jesus didn’t take on this responsibility — and He was Jesus. He often retreated from the crowds, who constantly “needed” something from him.
When I look back on my life I often see how it was actually the kindness of God that He didn’t meet every perceived “needs” I’ve had.
Just because someone has a need doesn’t mean that you (or I) have to meet it.
Sometimes the nicest thing you can do is to walk away.
Question: Do you feel like you have a tendency to be “too nice”?