Practising gentleness is a precious part of the Christian faith, and Jesus said, “I am gentle and humble in heart”.1 So let’s take a quick look at what it means to follow him into living gently:
Gentleness is listed with other character strengths as a fruit of the Spirit.2 But what is it?
The Britannica Dictionary defines gentle as:
having or showing a kind and quiet nature: not harsh or violent3
While Merriam-Webster simply says:
free from harshness, sternness, or violence4
God is gentle
When Moses spoke to God in that astonishing “burning bush” moment, God told Moses his name, “Yahweh”, or “I AM”.5 That name reminds us that God is without limit. He is infinitely strong. Yet he chooses gentleness.
When Elijah was on the run, afraid for his life, God cared for him. And when God more fully revealed himself to Elijah, it was not by earthquake or fire, but in a gentle whisper:
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.6
(You can read more of this story here.)
Comfort, comfort my people
In the book of Isaiah, God uses beautiful imagery to talk about his relationship with his people and to offer them hope. Isaiah 40 begins with these words:
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.7
God does not deny his strength, but he uses that strength to care for people:
See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
and his recompense accompanies him.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.8
God talks about holding Israel’s hand:
For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.9
and about his servant, who carries his Spirit:
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.10
These passages are full of warmth and gentleness.
What does practising gentleness require of us?
Let’s think about the contrast between God’s strength and his choice to be gentle. What does that say to us? What might gentleness require of us?
- To control our tempers
- To make choices, rather than fly off the handle
- To manage our emotional worlds and our behaviour
- To consider the other person and the potential impact of our behaviour on them
- Perhaps to practise careful empathy and ask,
“Who is this person?”
“When do I need to be especially gentle?”
Practising gentleness well can demand that we know the other person. To think about them deeply. It also requires that we know ourselves.
Becoming known as a gentle person
How can we develop this fruit of the Spirit in our character? To be known as a gentle person, glorifying God as a faithful witness?
It takes discipline and practice. Like weight training: it’s more challenging at first, but we gain strength of character as we push through, choosing gentleness in those tougher moments. Moments where we are tempted to be driven by anger or frustration.
Developing gentleness takes courage. Courage not to use force. Courage to show patience. To deal with others as equals.
Over time that practice of self-discipline, strength, and courage makes it easier to face challenging moments successfully. With practice, gentleness gets easier.
What about gender?
Much of our society says it’s not very manly to be gentle. It often portrays aggression as a male virtue.
As he was gentle, and the perfect man, we aspire and are called to become more like him each day. Sometimes it takes courage and strength to follow after him rather than after the ways of the world.
As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, Jesus scorned the shame of the cross.13 In his strength, we can follow after him.
Gentleness is a beautiful gift
You may recall the way Jesus interacted with Mary and Martha and their community around the death of Lazarus. (We’ve written about it here.) Despite his strong feelings, Jesus managed himself and was able to focus on others. Even though people in the background wanted to kill him, he ministered with gentle compassion. Let’s aspire to be like him.