Blog, Living in the Abundance of Christ

Get Gentle

Someone wrote a harsh word to me the other day, via social media. One word. That’s all it took for me to feel hurt. Had it been a stranger, I probably wouldn’t have given it a second thought, but, although not very close, this is someone who I care about and have known for many years. I don’t really know why one word hurt my feelings, but it did.

I was already thinking about harsh words when this happened, although I wasn’t thinking of someone else’s harsh words towards me, but my own harsh words toward others. I can have a sharp tongue. I can cut people with my words. This isn’t always a bad thing, as I think sometimes a harsh or stern word(s) is necessary, when it is true and tempered with love, but I’m talking about the rest (or majority) of the time when I choose to use my words carelessly.

Usually, I don’t use harsh words to be mean or malicious, so I started thinking about times when I’m most likely to use them unintentionally. Here are some reasons I’m tempted to (or actually do) speak harshly, and I feel these can apply to many of us.

  • I’m tired – I may not be getting enough sleep, or I may not be planning for any margin in my life, so I’m constantly busy.
  • I’m sick – Being sick, or dealing with a chronic illness is a legitimate reason to not be able to tolerate as much stress.
  • I’m worried – Worry sucks the energy out of me, and can make me preoccupied with my self or with a specific problem.
  • I feel attacked – I feel someone is being unfair to me, or wrong about their assessment of me or my actions.
  • Negativity – I am surrounded by negativity from my own inner dialogue (what you tell yourself), or from the people around me.
  • Failure – I have failed at something I set out to do, and much of my self-worth is wrapped up in my ability to succeed.

I tend to use my words as a defense mechanism. I’m good at being defensive, because I have a lot of practice. But the Bible says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1 The Bible talks quite a bit about gentleness. It’s a character quality that Christians are called to emulate. Although gentleness can be seen in our approach with people and things, and our demeanor, I think it is most evident in our words.

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that,when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” 1 Peter 3:15-16

When my kids were younger, one of the first things I taught them when handling a baby or a pet, was to be gentle. “Easy”, I would say. And they would know that they could touch, but they had to do so gently, with care, and lightly, not rough. They understood this from a very young age, because I showed them. I would take their hand in mine and show them how to be easy. How to touch gently.

Sometimes handling something gently does not mean handling it softly (or easy), but carefully, with precision. You hold an egg firmly, so it doesn’t drop, but you don’t clinch it or thrash it around.

Gentle: (of a person) mild in temperament or behavior; kind or tender. 2. moderate in action, effect, or degree; not harsh or severe.

Gentleness: Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love. (Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)

It seems, when we think of gentleness as a character quality, we often think of it a negative way, as being soft or a pushover. But if you look at the definitions, it doesn’t mean that. It takes practice and precision. It takes strength to handle something gently, being firm to keep control, without being harsh, and showing discretion and thoughtfulness in our conduct, and specifically with our words.

How can we get gentleness? The Lord shows us in his Word.  He teaches us, lovingly, taking us by the hand, just like I did with my children. “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” (James 3:17) We might start out smacking people with our words (even true words), flailing them around, letting them fall where they may. But he is patient with us, and continually through his Word (our reading or hearing it), through his merciful discipline towards us, and gentle promptings and reminders, he changes us, and we become more gentle, more like Jesus.

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:29

Jesus was gentle. Not soft, or a pushover, but firm and precise with his words and actions.

“But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” James 3:17

Gentleness in my words is not something that always comes easily to me, and it’s one of the MANY reasons I need Jesus. Some people will probably have an easier time with this. But, just like with all the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), gentleness is something he continues to work out in me. Over time. It is an outward reflection of an inward change, which is Christ in me, my only hope. (Colossians 1:27)

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…”  Ephesians 4:1-2

I feel that I need to add a caveat to this, because, people. When talking about gentleness, what I am suggesting is getting to the heart of the matter. The motives behind our words. While I can continue to work on my tone and delivery, just because someone doesn’t like something I say, or the way I’ve said it, doesn’t make it harsh or mean. Not everyone communicates in the same manner, so this is something to take into consideration. Finally, only God and ourselves (sometimes), know the motives of our own hearts. So, if someone confronts you about being harsh or not having gentleness, and you don’t feel you’ve acted this way, consider who it’s coming from (someone close to you or someone you hardly know) and take it before the Lord to work it out with him.

“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-13


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