Gentleness: An Uncommon Virtue
- 2008 4 Feb
In our harried, loud, and in-your-face lives it seems tranquility is a vanishing hope on the horizon. We have existed in an aggressive and demanding environment for so long that, unknowingly, many have adopted this kind of lifestyle for themselves or have begun to think of it as normal. It may be normal for the masses, but it should not be normal for the Christian-- especially for the Christian homeschooling parent.
What is gentleness?
Gentleness is freedom or separation from all harshness, roughness or intensity. It is felt in a soft summer breeze or a soft touch on your shoulder. It is seen in a balmy lake, the delicate way snowflakes fall from the sky or the graceful gliding of leaves as they drift to the ground on an autumn afternoon. It is heard in soft voice of a shepherd as he sings to his sheep, a husband as he whispers, "I love you" into the ear of his resting wife, or the soft cascade of water as it flows over the rocks of a meadow brook. Gentleness is a pleasant, easily entreated quality that invites warmth, comfort and truth. Gentleness creates an environment which makes learning possible and living pleasurable. All those sharp, coarse, abrasive edges of conflict have been removed.
Why is gentleness so rare?
First of all, we were born with a sinful nature. It is a part of our history. Our brains have deep paths worn into them from all the years we have "walked according to the flesh." Our feet have become so used to slogging through harsh muck and mire that, even after we have been born-again, we often still act like we are weighted down with sin or shackled by heavy burdens. Living the harsh, cruel life is our natural default. It requires no thought, no discipline, no mind renewing. Gentleness is a rare quality in many believer's lives and homes because we often still think and live like we did when we were heathens. But it doesn't have to be that way.
The Bible indicates that sanctification is the process of growing out of that old behavior as we mature in Christ. Gentleness may be an uncommon characteristic because so many people never realize that their salvation was intended to go beyond their initial belief in Jesus Christ, God's Only Begotten Son. They never realize the power of a daily washing in the Word of God. They underestimate the exceeding abundance of God's grace. They are ignorant of the Holy Spirit's comfort and instruction and, therefore, never experience His fruitfulness in their lives.
Why is gentleness necessary?
Gentleness creates the proper environment for growth and maturity. It's easy to see the difference between children who have been raised in a stressful, mean, emotionally distant and unstable home and those whose parents were patient, kind, protective, and nurturing. Gentleness is one of the qualities which makes the difference. It creates a soft surface for learning how to deal with life's hard knocks. If the spirit of gentleness rules in the home, then anxiety is minimized. Children are not terrified of their parents. Communication is kept warm and inviting. Gentleness keeps childish secrets from collecting in dark closets and then resurfacing in the form of rebellion, anger, and resentment in future years. When gentleness is in the soil, other virtues seem to take root and grow with amazing success. Good fruit results.
How do I become something that I'm not?
A few years ago my wife and I decided to plant a garden. I did not own a roto-tiller, so I dug a 10' x 10' plot in the back yard with my shovel. I ripped up the old sod, turned over the soil, broke up the clods of dirt, raked it smooth and added some fertilizer. The ground was hard-packed clay and loaded with dandelion seeds, and a thousand other unidentifiable weeds--I had no idea how to fight this battle.
Shortly after we planted the vegetables, the weeds took over. Jenny and I tried to keep up with them, but our best efforts made little difference that first year. Our harvest was pathetic. Autumn came and I mulched the garden with newspaper, leaves from the maple tree, horse manure and straw. The following spring I borrowed a tiller and worked the dirt for several hours. We kept up on the weeding better than the year before, but by August things were out of hand and we were grew discouraged.
Once again, autumn came and we burnt off the plot of ground (to kill the weeds), added straw, more horse manure, more leaves, more newspaper, grass clippings, lime dust and rotted sawdust. The next spring I tilled and raked for 6 hours or more. By now the plot had doubled in size.
This last summer I noticed that very few weeds were taking over the garden. The hard, clay soil was now so soft and rich that everything seemed to grow well. By harvest time we had more vegetables than we could consume. We canned and froze what we could use and still gave away incredible amounts of produce. Our garden was bringing forth more than we could believe. I was so happy that I had not given up after that first year.
How did the weed infested clay become a fertile garden plot? It was worked and reworked and worked again. At times we felt like giving up on it, but each year something inspired us to go at it again. Gentleness is not part of our human nature, but if we desire God's fruit in our homes (and homeschools), we must let His Word wash us, break us, convict us, renew us, strengthen us, pierce us, heal us, fill us and roto-till on our souls to make us gentle. Weeds--our UN-gentle actions-- have to be ripped out by the roots (confessed and made right). Nutrients--vital to our soul--must be worked in on a regular basis. There is no other way to become the gentle people God wants us to become.
How do I know when I'm becoming gentle?
Your reactions change. Worry, fear and sudden outbursts of anger become a thing of the past. You no longer manipulate others to make yourself happy. You no longer get depressed when you don't get your way. You quit threatening others into compliance. You wake up thankful for God's blessings. You sleep in peace because your conscience is clean and your relationships are restored. The tone in your voice softens. Your eyebrows are no longer are separated by a deep furrow. You smile more. Your vocabulary expresses more encouragement and less criticism. You fall in love with Jesus Christ and become comfortable with His molding process in your life.
The people around you notice the change and other odd things begin to happen. You attract new friends. Your children begin to share their innermost thoughts and feeling with you. They bless you with their behavior. They honor you with their lips. Strangers call you for advice and counsel. People are drawn to you rather than repulsed by you. Your spouse opens up to you and becomes the friend you've always wanted and needed. Ministry opportunities begin to crop up in the most amazing places. These are all good signs that gentleness is invading your heart and mind and taking over your thoughts and passions. You now begin to see God's hand in all those past trials.
An Uncommon virtue?
In our high-speed, force-fed and in-your-face world, it will always be the still, calm and comforting voice which has the power to gain an audience and make a difference. Gentleness is one of those high visibility traits that the Lord uses to set off His children from the others. It is the "salt and light" which has the power to draw others to life-changing truth. I guess that is why those who exhibit such qualities are so very precious, so extra-ordinary, so much like gold or diamonds…so much like Jesus. Our homes and churches and businesses yearn for it--need it. Learning and living become a joyful experience when gentleness is the rule of the day. Once you taste it, you'll never want your old life back again--and neither will anyone else.
Timothy Palla is the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in southern Ohio. He and his lovely wife, Jennifer, have five children--Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan--and have been involved in homeschooling since 1993. You may contact him at email@example.com. See also The Art of Gentling. Visit pastor Tim's homeschool blog at http://forums.crosswalk.com/m_1855557/mpage_1/tm.htm#1