Editor’s Note: This post is part of our month-long theme on celebrating and showing the love of God in all our relationships. You can find the rest of these articles here.
Every new year for the past few years, I have chosen a word that I would like to represent the next year of my life. This year I’m choosing gentleness, something that I have been really convicted about over the past few weeks.
I don’t think our world, Christian or not, understands what gentleness really is. After reading dozens of Scriptures about gentleness, I’ve come to understand it as being soft in a hard world. Now, before you turn up your nose and stop reading, let me clarify: when I say “soft”, I don’t mean weak. Somewhere along the way, we have confused gentle people with weak people. Christ is the most gentle person in existence, and He is by no means weak!
Pillows in a Rock World
Gentleness is being pillows in a rock world. We absorb the hits without breaking people in return. Unfortunately, I don’t see this manner in our pursuit of justice, equity, and love. We have somehow decided the best way to do this is to shame, hate, call out publicly, threaten, and tear down others in an attempt to get them to comply with our views. I have seen this personally in my conversations on race, gender equality, mental health, COVID and so many other hard topics."Gentleness is being pillows in a rock world. We absorb the hits without breaking people in return." -Christina Boatright #collegiatedisciplemaker Loving Gently: Five Ways to Cultivate the Fruit of Gentleness Click To Tweet
Christians, we have become beacons of criticism, whether we are criticizing politicians, people of differing political parties, those struggling with sexual identity, the church (being too progressive or too fundamental), mask or no mask, vaccine or no vaccine. We aren’t just guilty of endlessly criticizing others. We are often so critical of ourselves in every area of our lives. There is no room for redemption, grace, or bearing with one another in our society. And it’s killing our joy and our relationships slowly and painfully.
James 4:11-12 says,
“Don’t criticize one another, brothers and sisters. Anyone who defames or judges a fellow believer defames and judges the law. If you judge the law you are not a doer of the law but the judge. There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
The Gentleness of Jesus
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of the Woman at the Well found in John 4:1- 25. This woman was arguing with Jesus about where the correct place to worship is while living with a man who isn’t her husband (after five marriages, no less). What gives her the right to be critical of the Jews, much less Jesus? She is angry that people have treated her as less-than for her decisions. She is hurting and broken.
Jesus had every right to criticize and judge her, but He chose another way. He saw past her arguments, her anger, and her sin—He saw her. He chose to be gentle with her. She—a non-Jew and an adulterer—was the first person Jesus told that He was the Messiah. He answered her calmly and lovingly. His words were filled with grace. He chose to be a “pillow” for her, offering her true rest instead of breaking her.
His response to this woman is mercifully beautiful and tragically convicting. I can’t say many of us would have the same composure in conversation—especially behind the cover of our computer screen—with someone who is critical of Christianitty, or with anything that goes against what we believe.
Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, which is fruit that shows the Spirit’s work in our hearts. So how can we cultivate gentleness in our lives? How can we make room for the Spirit to grow this fruit in us so that in our responses we, like Jesus, can provide a place of rest from the harshness of the world instead of adding another blow? Here are five ways God has shown me I can, by His power, love others in gentleness. We see Jesus exemplify all these with the woman at the well and in His other conversations.
Listen in Humility
Humility is the ability to see oneself accurately: we recognize that we are human, which means we are imperfect and our perspective may be skewed. Even if we know the truth, we choose to listen instead of trying to find a rebuttal to everything the other person says. Humility is a choice for us to see ourselves accurately, neither hating ourselves nor finding pride in ourselves either.
Think Before Speaking
Is this how I would want to be spoken to? Is this response going to draw someone closer to Christ or push them further away? Am I wanting to be right more than righteous?
These are all questions we should be asking ourselves before we reply to a social media post or respond in face-to-face conversations. Gentleness goes hand in hand with thoughtfulness. If we speak first, think second, we are likely to be harsh rather than gentle, no matter what our intentions are.
As a side note, if a response to a social media post isn’t a positive one, I suggest having that conversation in person. Too much can be misunderstood online, making gentleness hard to achieve.
Consider Their Perspective
Be aware not only of what you are saying but how it may be perceived or received. I have learned the hard way that while my intentions may be good, my words can be received poorly, especially through text. Be aware of how you are speaking to someone and how, given their personality, circumstances, background, and current state of mind, they might perceive it.
Respond to Understand
Conversations can quickly resemble courtrooms and chess games more than gentle, loving dialogue. In your response to others, respond to understand, not to be smarter than. Use your words to reach their heart, not to win a game of verbal chess.
Choose to Forgive
Jesus tells us how He wants us to interact with those who hurt us: by forgiving them, loving them, and praying for them (Matthew 5:44, 6:14). Forgiving those who swing at us online and in person, with words or with fist, may be the most difficult part of gentleness. Like Jesus, we are to turn the other cheek, seek reconciliation and seek justice in Christlike ways. The power to do what often seems impossible comes from remembering the forgiveness we have experienced in Christ.
Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat
Speaker Louie Giglio says, “Don’t let the enemy have a seat at your table.” In this context, this means that even if you are right, even if you are justified, don’t resort to being a jerk, name-calling, gossiping, lording over others, verbally attacking, or spewing hate toward others—ever. Even if they hurt you. Even if they seem to you to be the worst person alive. When we choose those things over gentleness, we are giving the enemy a seat at the table, and he doesn’t belong there.
I can’t think of a better way to sum up what it means to love others with gentleness than Paul’s exhortation in Colossians 3:12-13:
Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy, and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive.