According to family lore from the early 70s, I was a precocious preteen and a second mother to my brother David. A strong willed, disobedient “handful,” David was 7 years younger than I. In school, I was the brown-nosing teachers pet. David was the distracted, uncooperative and disinterested first grader.
That summer our mother, desperate to help David become a better student, did what any savvy mom would do. She bribed him. Over summer vacation if David read an entire series (which would catch him up to his classmates) he would earn a trip to the cow barns to pick out a brand new kitten for his very own. And I would become his conspirator. I read “with” David to help mom, but the truth is, I had my eye on his prize. David did ‘finish’ the series and his reading mastery was never questioned.
Kitty came home with us. A female 3-month old calico known for its prowess with mice. Driving home our enthusiastic discussion went off the rails while trying to name her. David suggested… Killer, Rocky, Bruiser. My mother somewhat shocked, attempted to redirect him. “Sometimes pets live up to their names,” mother tried. “Maybe this sweet kitty needs our love and will transform to be a Princess or Angel.” The name suggestions became a bit less hostile, but with no consensus, we climbed out of the station wagon still calling her Kitty.
Kitty joined our family when my brother David was all rough and tumble boy. Our mother, knowing his potential hoped this cuddly pet would nurture another side of him. A tenderness.
A new name
No-one is completely sure how it happened, but one day Kitty acquired a new name. A yellow collar told everyone that she would be called “Gentleness”, end of discussion. The name didn’t exactly roll off the tongue. “Here Gentleness, Gentleness, Gentleness.” We laugh about it now.
But Mother was onto something. Toughness without tenderness is not effective at all. Both attributes are valuable expressions and two sides to the same coin.
Our country is more hostile and divided than ever. No one can deny that the United States of America is not only NOT united, but what seems like broken beyond repair.
Things are dire. But in my opinion, an election won’t solve anything. Policy change or a vaccine won’t do it. Our problems are bigger than that. In this desperate place, it’s time for the church to step up, to be the agent of real healing.
Ephesians 4:2,3 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
What if this… (Ephesians 4:2,3) was what we saw on the nightly news?
Those of us who are “united in spirit” are missing a huge opportunity. Too many of us have picked a side and have decided this command is simply impossible. At least for now, we rationalize.
Here’s the thing… we can’t seek justice and ignore mercy. We can’t demand truth and ignore grace; and we can’t say God is love without a reverence for His holiness.
When we focus on one element of God’s character to the exclusion of its counterpart, we tame His wonder. Jesus masterfully got the balance exactly right. Jesus was both tender and tough. And even if, we humans will fall short, that doesn’t allow us to cherry pick which attributes we’ll embrace.
In my view, especially now, we have underestimated the power and possibility of gentleness, a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Galatians 5:22, 23. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Gentleness is a fruit we often gloss over. It’s not typically highly regarded. Gentleness won’t make a resume or appear in a list of greatest strengths. Gentleness won’t get you very far in politics. And yet… it was Jesus’ gentleness that turned the world upside down.
The night He would be betrayed, Jesus was gentle. Jesus didn’t want to shatter Judas, He wanted to melt him. He didn’t want to condemn Judas, He wanted to convict him. Jesus is our model. Even to his betrayer, Jesus spoke with gentleness.
Matthew 26:50. Jesus said, friend… do what you came to do.
Have you ever known anyone who has been shamed, argued, judged or shouted into the kingdom?
It is Jesus’ gentleness that compels us to follow Him. With gentleness, Jesus loves the sinner in us and reforms the pharisee in us. With gentleness, Jesus disarms the cynic in us and motivates the disciple in us.
In this age of Us against Them, gentleness is our secret weapon.
Even though gentleness may not come naturally, when we yield to the Holy Spirit, change is possible. If gentleness had its way, I imagine these are some changes we’d see.
- A thicker skin would make us slow to react
- Anger would be harnessed
- Criticism would be received non-defensively
- Forgiveness would be immediate and complete
- We would have the courage to bless our opposition
Yikes. That is a BIG ask.
There is NO them.
The gentle approach has nothing to do with being weak. It requires a courageous trust in the Holy Spirit. After all, leading with gentleness is completely counter-cultural.
Consider this, we are a light to the world only to the degree that we stand out from the world. Besides…. in God’s economy there is no us against them. There is only us.
In honor of the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I close with her quote. Even though Jewish, she would have applauded Jesus’ approach.
“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Ruth Bader Ginburg
Have you employed the secret weapon of gentleness?
For His Glory, Debbie Hucke