Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. ~Matthew 11:29
It’s easy to be short with people right about now, isn’t it? It’s been a stressful couple of weeks for most of us and, at least according to the news I’m seeing, it promises to be a few more weeks before it gets significantly less stressful. In the meantime, most of us have more people home during the day. A lot of families have kids at home who are desperately wanting to go outside and visit friends while at least one parent is trying to work from home.
All the stress and tension make gentleness all the more important.
So what is gentleness exactly?
The main image which comes to my mind is that of the young child wanting to touch and hold the newborn baby and the parents reminding them to be gentle. Why do we do that? Because young kids, especially toddlers, don’t realize their strength. Especially in comparison to a newborn baby. “Be gentle,” we remind them because if they aren’t gentle, they could hurt the baby.
We say it again when they want to hold the puppy or kitten. When they get a hold of our hair or a piece of jewelry. We want them to learn to control their physical power and strength. To use it in appropriate ways. To use it in a way which is helpful, not hurtful.
This is the essence of gentleness. It isn’t about giving up power, but about demonstrating power in a correct and appropriate manner without undue harshness. It is about recognizing that the other’s persons salvation is more important than our pride in each interaction. It is about softening our abrasive world so people can catch a glimpse the gentle Shepherd.
Each of us is powerful. How that power is displayed to the rest of the world will vary from person to person, but we are each powerful in our own way. We each have the power to share words which encourage or words which tear down and destroy. We each have the power to show love or withhold love. We each have the power to extend grace and forgiveness or to hold onto grudges and bitterness. We are all powerful.
Gentleness is an awareness of where that power comes from: The Spirit. It is acknowledging that God did not empower us to look out for ourselves and our selfish interests first and foremost but to share His love with the world. Growing in gentleness means we are always seeking the Spirit’s guidance to use the power we have been given.
At camp we are nearing the end of week number 2 of social distancing. I’ll be honest, it’s getting on my nerves already (and I’m an introvert who is generally excited for a reason to stay home!). I have to remind myself to be gentle, especially with my words, when talking to people. It’s easy to get riled up (Why can’t people just stay home?! Stop buying all the toilet paper! Everyone please calm down!). And it’s easy to let those things which are really worrying us sneak out in how we are treating those around us.
So let’s remind ourselves to be gentle with each other both in these times of stress and uncertainty as well as when things get back to normal again. And let’s also be gentle with ourselves. It’s OK if the distance learning schedule isn’t going as planned or the resolve to spend this time at home cleaning out closets isn’t happening. If kids interrupt your zoom meeting, ask everyone to give you a minute while you remind them that you are working. Toilet paper alternatives are not the end of the world (just don’t flush them and crash our sewer systems please!).
When do you find it most difficult to restrain from rash anger or using harsh words? Are those circumstances amplified or mitigated at the moment? How can you remember to use the power of your words and actions to be an example of God’s love and gentleness?
In what ways do you see Jesus being gentle in the Gospels? Does viewing Jesus as gentle, humble, and/or meek cause you to think of him as more or less powerful? Why?
Connect with others who are finding themselves with way more family time in these days. Find a group you can be honest with, especially in those moments where you are frustrated and losing your patience.
Remember to laugh! It’s a great stress reliever and helps us to keep things in perspective. It’s not about making light of a serious situation, it’ about making the best of a serious situation.