A few days ago our family had a movie night. We don’t watch a lot of movies, but the kids had earned “Daddy Dollars” (doing extra chores and helping above and beyond around the house) and wanted to redeem them for a movie night. They selected the recent live-action drama-fantasy, Cinderella. When there are three little girls in the house that tends to sway the vote, but even our son didn’t mind the selection, and neither did I.
You see, I’m not ashamed to say that I enjoy movies with romance in them, as I still claim The Princess Bride as my all-time favorite, so watching, and enjoying Cinderella was certainly not out of the question. This version of the movie fills in much of the background story on Ella’s life (the name ‘Cinder’ Ella coming from a put down by her step family due to her hard work as essentially their servant and having cinders on her face); how she lost her mother and father and came to be living with her stepmother and two stepsisters. This part of the film is beautifully done, and one of the most stirring moments occurs shortly before her mother passes away. She calls young Ella in to see her and her parting words for her are, “Have courage and be kind.” It’s these words, along with the loving memory of her parents, which she carries with her throughout her life.
Now, I don’t want to delve too deeply into a movie, as even the best of movies only give us a glimpse of humanity or greatness, but I want to touch on these two themes that are central to Cinderella’s life and how she acts, courage and kindness. While this certainly is not a Christian movie (Really how can a movie be Christian, it doesn’t have a soul does it?), I believe these themes give us a picture of how those of us who claim Christ as Lord, and seek to follow Him, ought to live.
Courage is about taking risks. Courage means that I have to step out of what is comfortable, what is ordinary, what is expected, so that something better, something greater, something more important can be done or accomplished. The flip-side of courage, of course, is fear. Risk is called risk because you can lose something. Unless the potential benefit of the risk is greater than the potential loss, we’re not very likely to take the risk, to be courageous.
Now courage, as I’m describing it here, deals with our relationships with others and our relationship with God. It’s not like making a $10,000 bet at the blackjack table, yes that might be a big risk with a large potential payoff, but that’s a different kind of courage (or stupidity, depending on the situation), here I’m looking at things like the courage to stand up against injustice, or the courage to say something that might, in the short-term, hurt someone’s feelings, but is ultimately for the person’s benefit. The courage I’m talking about is like the priests of Israel about to enter the Promised Land, who, as described in Joshua 3:15-16, step into the flooded river before God stops the water. Courage risks our reputations and relationships at times. “If I do that I might look bad.” “If I say that, so-and-so might not like me.” “If I risk that and it doesn’t work out, where will I be then?”
There will always be reasons to say no to God. There will always be reasons not to risk, not to step out in faith, to play it safe, to go with the flow, to maintain the status quo. But the more I read about God’s working among His people throughout the Bible and throughout history, I see a God who is not very interested in maintaining the status quo. “I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10). Everyone in Christ is a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). God is about to do something new (Isaiah 43:19). God wants to work in our lives and grow us and change us and challenge us in ways that we have never seen. That takes incredible courage to fight against all that would hold us back, but it’s a courage that doesn’t originate with us.
You see, we can only be courageous in our Christian walk to the extent that we trust in God. If I don’t trust that God is going to fill me up or support me in some situation then I’m not going to risk, then I’m not going to be courageous. It’s not that God won’t or can’t, the problem is my perspective, God’s not off, I’m off, I’m looking at things the wrong way. But when I do realize that His Spirit is with me, that He is stronger than any force at work around me, that “no weapon formed against me shall prosper,” (Isaiah 54:17) well then the game changes, and then the way is clear, at least clear in that I know who I’m following.
Now, as good as courage is, as much as we need courage to stand up to people or to say or do some hard things, courage without kindness can trample. Strength and will without a kind heart behind can wound instead of build.
Kindness must go with courage, but kindness may not be what you think. I believe that often when we think of kindness we’re really thinking about being nice and docile, but true kindness is not nice and docile. You see, kindness carries with it a strength and humility that niceness does not. There is a reason that kindness is a Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 6:22-23) and niceness is not. That reason is the motivation behind the actions. Being nice and being kind can often look similar, but my being nice to you usually carries with it the motivation and expectation that you will be nice back to me. If we’re honest, and I’ve had to realize this in my own life, we try to be nice so that other people will like us and be nice back to us; whereas kindness is showing grace and empathy towards another person for their benefit regardless of what we receive back. Being nice is a good human trait, being kind is a Godly, spiritual trait that doesn’t come of our own accord, it comes from God’s Spirit working in us.
It is the kindness of God Himself that overcomes the sin and brokenness in our lives. Romans 2:4 tells us “that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” God is a holy and righteous God – we are to revere Him, but it ultimately is His kindness towards we sinners that softens our hearts and opens our eyes to see how good and holy He is, that He cares for us, that He loves us and seeks our lives more than we know. It is His kindness that draws us to Him. And if our hope is to not only be drawn closer to Him in our own lives, but to help others do the same, then we must know that God uses His kindness working through us to accomplish that. It is a humbling and powerful picture that God works through us to touch the lives of others for eternity.
Cinderella lived by courage and kindness to honor her mother and some vague hope that fate or something would make it work out in the end. Now, as a Christian, I take a different view; that we live this way ultimately to honor God, that even in the struggles of life we can stand strong and love those around us. This is because it is God who fills us up, it is He who strengthens us, and it is He who gets the glory in all things. He makes us worthy to be with Him for all eternity, no matter how terrible this life is and even if our ‘happily ever after’ never comes while we’re on this earth.
So yes, have courage and be kind, not so a handsome prince will sweep you away, but because the King of Kings gives us the strength and support to step out into the rushing waters around us, to say the things we need to say, to be the kind of people who follow Him and glorify Him with our whole lives knowing that His Kingdom is strong, His Kingdom is secure, His reign is eternal.