My husband made dinner recently.
It’s rare that he cooks – I have a talent for and an enjoyment of it, and my work schedule better facilitates me making the meals – but occasionally, on a day off, he’ll wander out to the grocery store and come back with a sack of ingredients.
And so, the other night, he whipped up gnocchi, Italian sausage and broccoli rabe in a light sauce with a ton of pepper, and it was spectacular. Although the food was delicious, the gesture itself was just deeply meaningful – all the more so because I could sense how clearly he enjoyed doing it and because he made a meal he knew I would like.
I’ve had the same sense recur lately, in small, delightful moments: when my mother and I text back and forth about Animal Crossing: New Horizons, the first video game we’ve ever played “together,” when my university sent a thank-you-for-your-efforts treat in the mail, when a colleague sent a hilarious cartoon my way that made an obscure joke about medieval literature that would have been lost on everyone but me.
They are resonant gestures.
I say “resonant gestures” instead of “acts of kindness” because there is a subtle but profound difference here. An act of kindness can be a small act of goodwill done for just about anyone in the hopes of engendering good cheer: a resonant gesture is personal, highly specific, and can in the best of moments be spiritually enriching, mood-altering, and sometimes even life-changing.
Resonant gestures come from those who know you best, or know you well, or know you enough to know what matters most. Resonant gestures are fundamentally lived acts of love: not generic, but highly personal, the spontaneous and generous manifestations of shared experience and understanding.
While I would not say that resonant gestures can only be performed by Christians, I think I can say that for Christians they are unique opportunities to express servant love and a Christlike heart. Again, these aren’t the sort of gestures you make without paying attention to the people around you and sacrificing a little time, effort, and energy. They are acts of relationship, largesse, and – importantly – attention.
Ever gotten swag – the free items given away at conferences or events? I am a notorious swag collector, but it’s rare that I ever keep any of what I am initially so excited to receive. Out of a series of umbrellas, Bluetooth speakers, notebooks, journals, pens, pencils, USB drives, microfiber wipes, and webcam covers, I keep maybe 10%. Contrast that with the following items:
- a little book from my mom full of encouraging notes and comments she wrote
- a calligraphy blessing given to me on my wedding by much-beloved medieval studies/Lutheran minister professor
- a rock from Ireland my husband saved for me from a trip through our forest forest
- a teapot from a kind couple at a church we attended long ago
I have saved some of these items through over a decade of marriage and moves. I save them because they are reminders of those resonant gestures mentioned above: moments when people saw, acknowledged, and loved me in such a specific way that I indelibly associate the object with the moment all these years later. It is deeply meaningful to feel seen, understood, and loved. I would argue that some people need that feeling – of being known and cared for as an individual – just as much as food and water and shelter.
Maybe resonant gestures come naturally to you. I know they do to people like my mother. To people like me, who tend to hurtle through the world at lightspeed living in our own heads, it can be harder. But if you want to get started, it isn’t complicated. You just have to pay attention: to what people like, or don’t like, or how they spend their time, or what they long for or worry about. Write down important dates: not just the biggies, like birthdays and Christmases, but silly or not-so-silly anniversaries, pet birthdays, or dates of bereavement. Remember specific likes, dislikes, quirks. And then, when opportunities become available, reach out right then when you’re inspired or something strikes your mind.
Send an elaborately-named bottle of hot sauce to the friend everyone nicknames Habanero Mike.
Send the quirky article or link to the article in a field of interest your colleague happens to care an awful lot about.
Send the note for the occasion no one else remembers or knows about.
It’s the little things, truly. And you’d be surprised how much, over time, making these gestures can ingrain in you the habit of being present to others, to studying and noticing them, and to getting out of self-centered patterns.
What better time to start than now?