The Scoreboard of Kindness

Do Favors Wreck or Strengthen Relationships?

Do you love helping people out?



You have a friend going through a busy season so you bring them over dinner. You watch your friends’ kids so they can have a date night. You mow your friend’s lawn who has been traveling a lot with work. You do some pro bono work and you help a friend get a job. You serve every week at your church. You’ve even given money to friends to help them get through a rough patch.

Sounds like you are a top-shelf human being. Can I be the first to say, “Thank you!”? Too many people are only concerned about themselves and their kids. What makes this planet great is when everyone looks after the needs of others and not just their own needs (Phil 2:4). What makes this planet a mess is when we do acts of kindness with ulterior motives.

That type of kindness isn’t really altruism, it’s “greasing the tracks” and “hedging your bets”. You are sowing seeds that you are counting on reaping one day. It’s a favor you plan to call in at some point…because they owe you.

When was the last time you did something nice for someone else? Did you do it expecting nothing in return? Be honest with yourself. No one is going to hear your answer.

Most people think they expect nothing in return, but yet they also keep a mental scorecard. I got them a birthday gift…they forgot mine. I’ve picked up their kids from soccer every night this season…they couldn’t help me out this once. I gave them a gift card when they moved into their home…they still haven’t had us over for dinner. I introduced them…I didn’t even get an invitation to the wedding. Can you relate?

Could the reason you are mad/frustrated/disappointed with someone right now be because of an internal score you’ve been keeping?

Several years ago I read about an interesting study in Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, which examined the correlation time 81lP0LgukcLhas on favors. Francis Flynn set out to discover if favors were more like wine which gets better with time or more like bread which grows stale and moldy with the passing of time. He found that it depended on which side of the favor you were on. Immediately following the act of kindness the receivers viewed it as a big deal, but the giver brushed it off as a small favor. But with the passing of time the perspectives flipped. If you were the giver the favor grew larger in your mind than it actually was, and if you were the receiver the favor tended to grow stale with the passing of time. The receiver’s mindset reflected an attitude of “What have you done for me lately?”


So what are we to do? Are we to stop being kind to people because they are going to forget about it? Are we to refuse favors because eventually they will hold it over our heads?

Here are a couple of things that come to mind.


Ask yourself: Am I really doing this out of the goodness of my heart or because I expect something in return?

Everyone says they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart…until they need something. When you need something and they aren’t there for you, self-righteousness creeps in and you begin to think things like “I can’t believe…”, “They should….because I….for them.” Anger grows, bitterness takes root, and then good-bye friendship.

Ask yourself: Do I have a secret scoreboard?

It’s a subtle shift from “I want to help you because I love you” to “You should help me because I helped you.” It’s easier than you might think to move from love to debt. “You owe me for all I have done for you.” When you find your heart shifting towards a “debt to pay” mentality, remind yourself why you did it in the first place. Maybe this is so hard because we’ve never experienced unconditional love, so we don’t know how to give it.

Ask yourself: Why am I really doing this?

Our motives can really mess us up in life. I think it’s especially true when it comes to acts of kindness. It’s harder than you think to determine your motives. Are you doing this because you want to be liked? Are you trying to buy friends? Are you doing this out of guilt or obligation? Are you trying to impress others? The only thing that I’ve seen sustain unrecognized kindness is the motive of obedience to Jesus because He always sees and doesn’t forget the kindness you’ve shown to others.


Ask yourself: Have I acknowledged the gift and expressed gratitude?

There is an interesting story in the gospels where Jesus heals 10 lepers and only 1 comes back to say “thank you” (Luke 17:11-19). It’s crazy to think people who had a death sentence from a disease with no known cure were given a second lease on life and couldn’t even say thank you!!!

So when someone does something nice for you…at the very least say thank you. When you find yourself on the receiving end of something really big…make sure you say thank you more than once. Recognize the gift at a later date.

Just like the giver can shift from love to debt (you owe me), the receiver can shift from gratitude to expectancy. It’s easy to take for granted those people who always help. If you aren’t careful you can move from being grateful for their act of love to being expectant of their help. (Got any volunteers you have become expectant of?)

Ask yourself: Am I always the receiver?

If it’s hard for you to point to multiple things you’ve done for others, but you can think of lots of things others did for you it could mean you are a user. (Ouch! I know that was a little pointed.) Once others think of you as a user they will set up boundaries. If you feel like no one wants to help you could it be you’ve been labeled a “user” because of your lack of expressed gratitude? Remember it’s not enough to have an attitude of gratitude. Your gratitude must be expressed. Gratitude isn’t gratitude until it is expressed.

Ask yourself: Have I thanked God today?

The one most people forget to thank is God. They forget that God is the source of everything good in their life (James 1:17). When you pray is there any gratitude coming from your lips or is it just you asking for more stuff? Even the greatest gift of all (John 3:16-17) can grow stale with the passing of time instead of sweeter like wine. Don’t let it! Stop right now and thank God specifically for the good in your life. The story of the 10 lepers reminds me that gratitude matters to God. Jesus counted how many came back and said thank you. Be the one that comes back to express gratitude!

Bottom line:

GIVER: Let it be a seed you sow not a debt they owe.
RECEIVER: Is expectancy my attitude or am I expressing my gratitude?

(A little cheese to go with your wine. 😉 )