July 9, 2020

Kindness Is Next to Holiness

A Moment with Frederick Buechner
“Kindness is next to holiness”

Children that we are, even you and I, who have given up so little, know in our hearts not only that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but it is also more fun. The kind of holy fun that wells up like tears in the eyes of saints, the kind of blessed fun in which we lost ourselves and at the same time begin to find ourselves to grow up into the selves we were created to become.

When the American novelist, Henry James, was saying goodbye once to his young nephew Billy, his brother William’s son, he said something that the boy never forgot. Of all the things he might have said, what the old novelist did say was this, “There are three things that are important in human life — the first, is to be kind; the second, is to be kind; the third, is to be kind.”

Be kind, because though kindness isn’t the same thing as holiness, kindness is next to holiness. It is the door that holiness often enters the world through, enters us through. Not just gently kind, but sometimes fiercely kind. Be kind enough to yourselves, not just to play it safe with your life for your own sakes, but to spend at least part of your lives like drunken sailors, for God’s sake, if you believe in God — or, for the world’s sake, if you believe in the world. And that’s to come alive truly. Be kind enough to others, to listen beneath the words they speak for that usually unspoken hunger for holiness that I think is part of all of us, because by listening to it and cherishing it, maybe we can help bring it to birth, both in mammon and ourselves.

“What It Means to Grow Up”
Frederick Buechner, 1985


  1. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Plato

    The older I get the more important and precious kindness seems to me.

    • I can see that as well…. Its what makes evangeliclaism so toxic…the concept of quick, easy, instant transformation amidst pain and hard battles.

  2. Does anyone know what Frederick Buechner meant by “holiness?”

  3. I’m reminded of the scene from the original Willy Wonka at the end where the little guy puts the ‘Everlasting Gobstopper’ on the desk and Gene Wilder says something to the effect of ‘A light shines in a weary world’. A touching moment where kindness and righteousness prevail. I really like Buechner’s vibe.

  4. What a brilliant writer and thinker. “Telling the Truth: The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy, and Fairy Tale” is a must read. I’ve read “Godric” and “Brendan” as well. Great novels, but his commentary on the gospel resonates the most. This just makes it more apparent to me that I need to check out more of his work.