One of the fruits of the Spirit that is often overlooked, certainly by me at least, is gentleness. I was reminded of it when my minister visited another church and described it as “very gentle.” It struck me then just how much this gentleness is needed in church and in life these days. A lot of us would describe the last few years as “brutal” or as an assault. It has felt like a constant bombardment of bad news, violence, polarisation, tragedy and craziness. This has had an adverse affect on our capacity to love, to hope, to laugh and to be gentle.
To be gentle means to slow down, to put our ego aside and to put others first. It’s very hard to be gentle when you’re rushing, selfish and set upon your way of doing things. It matters because gentleness is a key aspect of restoration. After the last few years we all need restoration to a greater or lesser degree. The more of us that can access this fruit of gentleness the greater we can help in God’s mission of restoration of our hearts, minds and capacities.
In particular this means being gentle with the person we’re usually hardest on; ourselves. I don’t know about you but I’ve called myself an idiot much more than I’ve called anyone else an idiot – and other names too! This becomes especially problematic when our capacity for love- including loving ourselves – is already worn down. It can easily become self-hatred that then gets projected onto others and the rest of the world. Imagine that multiplied by billions! This is what we’re seeing and we can start making a difference by being gentle on ourselves.
I’m starting by not condemning myself for messing up some financials at work (accounting software is trickier than it looks!), going to bed too late and putting on a bit of weight over winter. They’re small things but it’s so often the small things that we’re hard on ourselves about. “There is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus” Paul writes in Romans 8:1. This is not about hell, but rather about our internal state of being. It’s a response to chapter 7 and Paul’s reflections on doing what he doesn’t want to do. He wants to obey God but self gets in the way. Self-condemnation is looming but Christ is the rescue. He does not condemn us, but instead gives us life, his Spirit and his love.
Now Jesus wasn’t always gentle and nor was Paul. Pharisees and other self-righteous, pride-full hypocrites would testify to this. But to the God-seeker, the one on their knees, the one with tears, the broken, the hurting and the weak gentleness was always the response of Jesus and, when we bear the Spirit’s fruit, it’s ours as well.
So let us be gentle, first with ourselves and then with our neighbour. May it be the gentleness of Jesus in us and may it help bring his life and love to our hurting world. Grace and peace everyone.