Sometimes I find myself to be pathetically nice.
I try to drive politely. Behind the wheel I’m nice.
I will often insist someone else go first. In line I’m nice.
I attempt to hide my annoyance and smile politely at the server. In the restaurant I’m nice.
I will choose a parking spot further out and leave the close ones for those who really need them. In the parking lot I’m nice.
I know, I know, those are indications of attempting to simply be a decent human being. None of those things are bad. But they’re not necessarily good.
Song lyrics often lodge in my head like a piece of a popcorn kernel in my teeth. It’s been a while since I last watched it, but the bizarre work that is Sondheim’s “Into the Woods” contains a lyric, spoken by the witch, that has stuck in my craw for quite some time.
You’re so nice.
You’re not good.
You’re not bad.
You’re just nice.
They sting my heart as they roll onto the keyboard through my fingers.
She could be talking about me. I want to be good. I know that goodness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit within me. It is something that I want to cultivate. But I just can’t do it in my own strength.
These words haunt me because of the way I walk through life and interact politely with many people and perhaps even express legitimate concern for their well-being and may to a large degree commiserate with their problems… but I don’t even particularly look for something that I might do to make it better.
I’m not bad. I don’t look for ways to pile difficulty or troubles upon their heap of burden. I don’t kick them when they’re down. I don’t laugh or mock their pain. No, I’m not bad.
But I’m not good. I don’t step into their mess and walk with them through it. I don’t look around for some way of providing assistance, comfort, or aid. No, I’m not really good.
I’m just nice. I smile and nod and maybe break the tension with a silly comment or a surface commiseration. You know… just nice.
No, it’s not all the time. But, much of the time, I’m not bad and I’m not good. I’m just nice.
But I know the source of all comfort and assistance and aid. I talk with Him moment by moment and day by day. I spend hours studying His writings and seeking His guidance and encouraging His followers.
When I interact with someone and have the opportunity, even for a brief moment, to speak or share or point to joy and hope and I fail to do so… it’s worse than bad.
Something is lacking. Jesus told us that the world would recognize His followers by the love we demonstrate to others. He did not say they would recognize us because we’re nice. There is a difference.
But, God help me, sometimes I’m just nice.