Last week I was struck between the eyes with a sneaky, soft, subtle, simple, profound (I ran out of s-words) slice of scripture. It’s hidden in between a whole bunch of dynamic and powerful words from the apostle Paul. I’m sure you’re familiar with it. You may even have it memorized.
“Rejoice in The Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” Philippians 4: 4-7
This is one of my absolute favorite passages of scripture. Thanks to Slugs & Bugs, I finally have it memorized. (Consequently, however, I can’t say it out loud anymore without using a British accent. 😉 ) But late last week, as I was doing my own thing, minding my own business, The Lord caused me to take particular notice of that third sentence. “Let your gentleness be evident to all.” It did more than merely catch my attention. It cut me to the core. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I’ve been pondering those words deeply for three days now and have been evaluating myself through a completely different lens. The sad thing is, I don’t like what I see.
I have friends who grew up in homes that one could easily describe as gentle, tender, peaceful, nurturing. Their homes were places people wanted to be. And stay. I didn’t grow up in that sort of home. While there were moments when all of those virtues were present, it would be a huge stretch to say that this was the sort of environment that defined my family. I grew up in a home that had more than its fair share of sarcasm, yelling, anger, put-downs, gossip, and authoritarianism. There was a lot of laughter, but usually at the expense of others. Don’t misunderstand. I love my family, and I do have some wonderful memories of my childhood. But mine certainly wasn’t a home that was teeming with gentleness.
Then I got married. I was blessed beyond words to marry a man whose family epitomized gentleness and peacefulness. While they aren’t perfect, and I’m certainly not saying they’re “better” than my family, there is a noticeable difference between the two. There is a consistency of joy in my husband’s family, and the environment they create is comfortable. Simple. Relaxing. Safe. I’m sure it wasn’t always so. Every family has sibling rivalry. Kids fight. Mothers and daughters struggle with each other, as do fathers and sons. Husbands and wives disagree. Life with littles is busy and exhausting and stressful, and no one can be calm and joyful and keep it together all of the time. I get that. What I see now is not exactly what life was like when my husband and his sister were children.
But still, it gives me pause as I evaluate the environment of my own home. I’ve realized that, thankfully, my children are not growing up in the same environment I grew up in. But they’re also not growing up in the environment I want for them. There is much laughter, much silliness, much cuddling, many helping hands, a lot of prayer, and a lot of love. I’m patient a lot more than I really give myself credit for. My children are happy more often than not and we generally enjoy being together. But we also have our fair share of yelling, fighting, anger, tantrum-throwing (even from the kids), vying for first place, demanding our own way, and general…well…you know…sin. Unfortunately, this side of Heaven, sin is unavoidable, and it shows up in my home on a regular basis.
As I’ve meditated on this passage of scripture these past few days, I’ve come to realize a few things.
1. I’m not condemned to repeat for my children the environment I grew up in. The life I lived as a kid I thought was normal, and maybe it was. But it wasn’t a home that was defined by gentleness. I worry sometimes that the culture I was saturated in has made too great a mark on me for me to be changed. But fortunately, God is faithful to remind me of the truth. For two weeks in a row, this song has made its way, either directly or indirectly, into the sermons being preached at my church, and it’s impacted me powerfully:
“I will change your name.
You shall no longer be called
wounded, outcast, lonely or afraid.
I will change your name.
Your new name shall be
confidence, joyfulness, overcoming one,
faithfulness, friend of God,
one who seeks my face.”
Wanna know a secret? Lean in and I’ll tell you. Ready?
I’m not perfect.
I get tired. I get hormonal. I have bad days, and I get angry. And when I do, sometimes I yell at my children. Sometimes my words fall too soon to unsay. It embarrasses me to say that once or twice I may have even thrown something. I want to tell you that, though, because I want to be real with you. But you wanna know another secret? That’s not who I am. That’s not what defines me. As one who has been saved by the blood of Jesus, I am no longer defined by my weakness. I am defined by the grace of my Savior. And He calls me His treasure, His beloved. That’s not a free pass to continue in my sinfulness, but it does free me of the guilt of my own messiness, because the Spirit is renewing me daily as I abide in Him.
What that means for my children is that, through my mistakes and bad decisions, they get the opportunity to learn about humility, forgiveness, mercy and grace. They get the opportunity to learn that this life of following Christ isn’t about being good, but rather, it’s about submitting to the One who is the very essence of Goodness, and as a result, goodness and mercy flow out of me effortlessly. When I’m having a really bad day (usually my really bad days are hormone-induced), my children will hear me yell. Then they will see me cry. Then they will see me praying. Then they will see me drawing them near to me and asking for their forgiveness. My children are never going to have a perfect mother who has it all together. What they can have is a mother who teaches them how to work through those bad days and inappropriate behaviors in a way that pleases the Lord. Through those times when my gentleness is not evident, my hope is that my humility is.
2. The more I abide in Christ, the more naturally gentleness flows out of me. Ever notice that when you spend a lot of time with someone, their attitude and general nature tends to rub off on you? Apparently the same thing happens when we spend time with Jesus (who knew?!). There are reasons that respected pastors and theologians recommend that we practice spiritual disciplines (reading of scripture, prayer, meditation, fasting, worship, etc.). Jesus got angry, yes. He may have even raised his voice and yelled. But never at children. Never at the crowd of people who followed him. Even when he was tired or hungry or needing some alone time, he never let his physical needs cause him to lose his cool with the people he was discipling. He was calm, gentle, tender, and peaceful. He himself was a haven of rest for the weary and broken. He was everything I want to emulate for my children. And what do you know! The more time I spend in His presence, the more His goodness rubs off on me. It’s inevitable. What a gift!
3. Gentleness isn’t popular. We live in a culture where arrogance, pride, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, guilt trips and put-downs are not only the norm, but they’re encouraged. Life has almost become a contest of determining who is best at using their words as weapons. We demand to be first, demand to be right, demand to have our opinions heard. But at what cost? The advent of social media has made this reality even worse, because we can jab at and slam people from the safety of our living rooms without ever having to look anyone in the eye. Our political stances, religious views, moral responsibilities, even our imperative need to correct each other’s grammar has become our hill to die on.
Gentleness? Why that’s far too dangerous. One might not know how intelligent and academic I am if I submit to gentleness. I don’t want to be gentle. I want to be right!
I am so guilty of feeling the need to be right over being gentle. And to be sure, there are times when confrontation is necessary and we should stand for justice and truth. There are times when, despite my children’s desires, I’m still the mom and I still have to assert my authority. Being gentle is not the same as being a wallflower. But it’s a discipline in learning when and how to guard my tongue and my temper, knowing what is worthy of anger and what is not.
My prayer is that the Lord will guide my heart and that my gentleness will truly be evident to all. In so doing, I pray that my home will be one of peace, and my children will see the Hope that is in me and will thirst for it like water.