Gentleness Isn't for Wimps

My kids love superheroes.  I’m often asked the question, “Mommy, who is your favoritesuperhero?”  Wonder Woman.  Of course.  A two-inch figure of this female defender stands, ready for action, on my kitchen windowsill.  Rounding up criminals with a magic lasso and an icy stare, this woman definitely has what it takes to be a mom.  And she does it all in high-heeled red boots.  How super-cool is that?

If I were in distress and needed the aid of a protector, I’d call Wonder Woman.  But if her invisible jet were in the shop for repairs or the zipper on her boots were busted, I wouldn’t be disappointed to see Superman, Batman, Spiderman or Gentle….or who?  Gentle?  Wait a minute.

Funny name for a superhero, isn’t it?  How did that guy get into the hero club?  Actually, his real name is Nezhno.  Gentle is his nickname, which really makes matters worse.  I can understand if ‘Gentle’ were his birth name, given to him by a sweet mother as she held her precious newborn.  But this guy earned the nickname Gentle because of his tender demeanor.  

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure if I’d trust a superhero named Gentle to get me out of a jam. 

But Gentle isn’t a wimp.  In fact, he’s described as one with extreme power—perhaps the strongest in the Marvel Universe.  He has super strength, but he detests violence.  His massive body is wallpapered in tattoos.  These tattoos work to restrain his power.  Nobody would call Gentle a wimp.  His power is controlled, at bay, tempered. 

In Philippians 4:5, Paul says, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all.’ 

A gentle person shows great restraint.  It’s a gentle forbearance—an abstaining from the force of a right.  The King James Version says ‘let your moderation be known to all.’  It takes much less self-control to blurt out your demands, or make a fist, but gentleness requires a thoughtful response.  The most challenging times to show gentleness is in the midst of conflict.    

When there’s a disagreement between mother and child or husband and wife or between friends or siblings, it’s hard to be gentle.  And maybe that’s because we want to assert our rights.  But gentleness puts others before our own rights or our own desires and opinions. 

Paul doesn’t say ‘let your opinions be evident to all.’  He says, ‘let your gentleness be evident to all.

And he means everybody.  That’s what makes this verse so challenging.  It’s easy to be gentle to some people.  But when I’m in the midst of a conflict, gentleness doesn’t come naturally.

Maybe you know what that’s like.  When I’m in an argument with my husband and I bring up the kitchen sink (in our case it’s actually a dishwasher.), I’m not showing gentleness.  Or, you’ve been a superlative mother all day long, but by suppertime, it all falls apart and you shout out to your toddler:  “Ok!  You lose everything!   No dessert, no Daniel Tiger for a week, no playground ever again and time-out until your father gets home!”  You lack gentleness.  Or you blow up at your teenager, ‘No phone, no car, no dance, no computer for six months!’  Or, tensions have been brewing between you and your husband.  They’ve been at a simmer, but now it’s a rolling boil.  You spill over and lash out with an accusation as if you’re a detective in the board game, Clue:  “It was you, in the laundry room, with your double-pronged tongue!”  You weren’t gentle.

We may think our lack of gentleness only affects the person we’re in conflict with, but that’s not the case.  It damages the whole family.  It affects the whole household. It reaches beyond the cubicle into the office, the elevator and the cafeteria.

Maybe you’re not prone to temper or outbursts, but the comments you make to your teenage or college-aged daughter or co-worker or spouse are fraught with sarcasm or seething disappointment.  You speak with an edge.  A harsh edge.  You lack a gentleness.

A woman recently confessed that she didn’t have a gentle bone in her body.  “I’m not sweet,” she huffed.  “I’ve never been gentle,” she said harshly.  Her adult daughter agreed with her mother’s self-assessment. 

It’s true that some people are more naturally inclined toward gentleness than others, but the Bible commands every Christian to let gentleness be evident to all.  So how do we keep that command if we hail from a rougher rearing?  Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit.  We can’t produce it on our own.  It’s something that God, by His Spirit, yields in us.  God can bring a gentle spirit to a seriously caustic soul. 

That’s true of my friend who didn’t have a gentle bone in her body.  As we were talking, a church deacon passed by and heard the comment.  He had served as a church leader for more than thirty years and he knew the woman well.  He paused and looked at her, “I’ve known you for a long time.  You’re not as harsh as you used to be.  You’ve changed.” 

Could you use gentleness?  I suppose we could try multiple tattoos to harness the harshness.  Or, we could ask the Holy Spirit to produce gentleness inside of us.  I’ll skip the tattoos and stick with the Spirit.

Patricia Batten