The Underrated Virtue
The word “gentleness” stood out to me while doing lectio about two months ago. Since then my behavior has confirmed that I need to ponder why! Our culture finds rudeness, harshness and insensitivity more acceptable than ever and it’s easy to mirror that.
In its simplest form, gentleness is refusing to treat others harshly when they have treated me harshly (non-retaliation). After pondering Matthew 5:38-42, I tried to picture how I could respond to one of our grumpy clients who makes unreasonable demands at the Samaritan Center (a drop-in center for the homeless) where I volunteer. When I see him, I want to run the other way, but as I prayed, a different approach came to me. The next Monday when I saw him coming I took a deep breath, grinned broadly and asked, “How can I help you?” before he could start in on me. Disarmed, he spoke gently and was much more fun and has been ever since.
To be gentle is to “make it as clear as you can to all you meet that you’re on their side, working for them not against them” (Phil 4:5, Msg). Another client who’s in withdrawal from drugs frequently taunts several of us and so I asked God what gentleness would look like with him. It came to me to use as few words as possible since he uses anything I say to vent meanness. So now I grin and say, “Hi ____ (his name).” If he snaps at me, I grin again and say, “As you wish.” (This isn’t to say that one shouldn’t have boundaries and enforce them. The directors have spoken to him twice and he’s about to be banned.) William Barclay describes gentleness as the “secret of equanimity and composure.” I want that!
I struggle to be gentle with pushy people which is why I’m fascinated by how Jesus responded to the two blind men. They screamed at him to heal them. Apparently they were so obnoxious that the crowd “ordered” them to be quiet. But Jesus - moved with compassion - paused for them in the midst of this huge crowd traveling along the road and gave them the gift of his attentive presence. Then he asked them, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus was centered and serene with these two pushy guys and offered his services in a submissive way. “What can I do for you?” can be a risky question. He was happy to serve them and after their healing they followed him. No wonder. I want to be this gentle and merciful in the midst of demanding people. This is life in the kingdom of God here and now today.
Gentleness and non-retaliation transmit unquenchable love - love that just can’t be drowned out. Can I take the unquenchable love that God shows me and turn it around to people whom I find difficult today? Only by the power of the Spirit, which is accessible to me this minute.
Grace and peace,
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