So, at age six, attending an international school in Hong Kong, I was a weak-willed follower of a charismatic, taller, lovely bully (I’ll call her Lana) who domineered my recess times and dictated my interactions with the other kids for many months.
(We finally broke off our relationship when I stood up to her one day and she then punched me ferociously in the stomach, but that’s another story.)
During the course of my friendship with Lana, for no discernable reason that I can fathom, a boy in one of the older classes (4 grades above mine) took an interest in Lana and me. During recess he would often stroll over (looking very tall to my eyes) to where we were, to say hello and chat with us (specifically me) in a friendly way.
His name was Ben, and his kind face and friendly questions were deeply surprising to me since I had not imagined that I was worth the notice or time of anyone in any of the older classes.
After the first startling encounter and initial suspicious thoughts (Why is this older boy talking to me? Is he trying to make fun of me in some way?), I began to relax, feeling that he was safe, that I could trust his kindness.
Lana kept tight control of our interactions, however, and I don’t recall any conversation with him that she didn’t attempt to control.
Once, near the Christmas holidays, two cards were delivered to our class by someone from the upper grades – one for Lana, and one for me. I had no idea who would have sent me a card and was thrilled and delighted when I opened it and saw it was from Ben, wishing me a happy Christmas.
When Ben found us on the playground later that week and asked if we had received his cards, I looked up and said, “Yes!” I don’t remember if I said thank you, but I wanted to.
Lana, however, jabbed me in my side, narrowed her eyes at me, and quickly lied, “No, we haven’t!” and I looked at her, startled, but was afraid to contradict her and risk her anger. So I weakly parroted, “No, we haven’t…”
Ben, looking displeased and disappointed, said directly to me, “You don’t have to do everything she says, you know,” and then walked away. I was embarrassed and sorry. I don’t think he ever spoke to me after that.
That term was his last at our school, and I never saw him again. But I have always remembered him.
Ben’s seemingly small, insignificant kindnesses to me were not small or insignificant.
Having a stranger demonstrate that I had value and merited time and kindness – through no effort of my own – was deeply impactful in a season where I felt unseen and of little worth.
He had no way of knowing that at that time in my life, my parents were going through significant marital trouble, and my home life was unsettled and tense. Lana’s friendship was conditional and I was constantly afraid of displeasing her. I had no other close friends.
Whether or not Ben knew it, I believe God used him to show me His love in that time. And I will always remember it with sincere gratitude.
We often carry hidden hurt places and unseen heavy burdens. It is not always the big things that bring solace, but the little kindnesses that can give the strength to take another step, another breath, to get through the hard of each day.
It’s important that you and I remember to not trivialize the potential impact of the little things we do.
The smiles we give, the kind words we say, the small graces and little gifts of attention and love – these can be immensely powerful and deeply life-giving to the hearts and lives we touch – whether our own family or perfect strangers.
We may never truly know or understand the repercussions of our actions, but the Father of us all sees and knows – and He may be placing us exactly where we are to be His gentle hands, His whispered kindness, His smiling eyes to the broken and aching people around us.
(Ben, thank you. I felt God’s love in your kindness. I’m sorry it’s taken over thirty years to tell you. I pray for you to this day.)
And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’” (Matthew 25:40, NLT)
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on East Willow Place