One valuable friend that I have made through the internet is Carol Noren Johnson. She is a 70-year-old Christian wife, faithfully caring for her husband who is suffering through Alzheimer’s Disease. One thing that is so beautiful about Carol is the bluntness of her writing. She doesn’t put on any velvety eloquence, she has no time for sentence enhancers. No, Carol writes in a sort of stream of consciousness—like she is sitting there talking to you. And she isn’t your typical 70-year old. While caring for her husband, she also substitute teaches in the public schools, alongside of teaching a class for the state of Florida for offenders arrested for drunk driving, is a widow (from her first marriage), and runs a couple of blogs. My favorite factoid about Carol is that she is a rapping grandma. Carol spins up rap lyrics and spits them out to her students to make learning fun. You know that once you hear a 70-year-old woman rap it, you will not forget it!
Through my short blogging years, I have written a few times about how I dislike niceness, and I think you should too. Carol immediately identified with my message. In fact, she let me know that she had written a book called Getting Off the Niceness Treadmill, because of her own struggle in this area. She was kind enough to send me a copy.
The thing about this book is that it isn’t only a book about niceness. It is more of a spiritual memoir of Carol’s life. The theme of niceness, Carol’s battle with it, and lessons learned, are woven throughout the whole piece. Reading this book made me wish that my own grandmothers would write something similar. I would love to have them tell me their history along with identifying some of the biggest sins they struggled with along the way, all to God’s glory. I would treasure it! Maybe you wouldn’t think of niceness as a struggle, or especially a sin. But Carol shows that it is manipulative and unloving. While nice people often like to picture themselves as victims, they are really seeking a self-glory. Often underneath the veneer of niceness there lies bitterness, jealousy, and a desire to control.
Niceness can often be the enemy to truth. Since the truth is frequently offensive, we try to dip it in a “nice” makeover before we handle it. And at that point, the truth can be unrecognizable. Carol encourages us to put on kindness and honesty, not niceness.
I’ve recently said on a Mortification of Spin podcast that niceness is the Eddie Haskell of evangelicalism. It’s manipulating, but not really loving, manners without truth. Have we become more concerned with our expectations of politeness at the expense of truth? I think we all do at times. We think that the opposite of nice is mean. This is not so. Nice is people-pleasing, and we like to be popular, don’t we? But we need to remember what kind of theologians we are. We are not theologians of our own glory, we are theologians of the cross. Sure, we should be kind-hearted. But don’t confuse over-groomed caricatures who bird-dog esteem with a kind heart.
And so Carol ends her book saying, “The Lord is to be praised for his patience in my life. I have eternity to be grateful. Others don’t have to love me for anything I am or do, but He loves me—of that I am sure” (102). By following with Ps. 71:17-18, I see that I am one of those whom she has declared Christ’s strength and power in the next generation.
Carol, thanks for persevering. And thank you for what you have taught me about love and life. I’ll see you on the front porch one day, my friend.