Sunday, July 23, 2006

Fruit of the Spirit: Gentleness

I've been thinking about this topic quite a bit over the last couple of weeks.


The other fruit we've covered - love, joy, peace, longsuffering - I tend to think of as attributes. Gentleness, to me, is something that directly impacts every person in our lives. Gentleness potentially has a huge impact on how we treat other people and perhaps even how those people treat themselves.

Gentleness. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition defines it as "Considerate or kindly in disposition; amiable and tender." Hmm. Tender. How often do we hear that word? And how often do we treat other people with love and....tenderness? Not too often, huh?

Our society seems to value those who speak the most candidly. Being blunt is considered to be a positive attribute of its own. Temporarily, we all tried to be politically correct, but that madness quickly passed. And whoever speaks the loudest these days is the person to whom we listen. We have radio hosts like Howard Stern. Media favorites like Rosie O'Donnell. And outspoken critics like Bill O'Reilly. On our tvs and on our radios every single day. But few people are talking about tenderness.

And I admit I'm not much better. I've always been known for my bluntness. And it serves me well in ministry, but (and this is a big but) not in too many other places. I believe it is okay, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to tell a person how they can grow in Christ, what steps they need to take to be closer to God or areas in their spiritual lives which need improvement. It is not okay, however, to feel that you are the world's spiritual advisor. Instead of condemning anybody else here, I will just condemn myself: it is not okay for me to tell my friends, family and strangers like why their lives are a mess, why they need to get themselves together or why they are falling so far short of their individual marks. But I have. And, occasionally, I still do. But I'm learning...

I'm learning that God values discretion, gentleness, and yes - tenderness - in our dealings with people. It shows so clearly in Proverbs 15:1, where it says:
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger

A soft word turns aside bad feelings, strife and discord. But words that are harsh just stir things up. A good proverb for me to know.

And you know what I've learned? Being harsh towards someone else never solves a problem. It just engenders bad feelings. You've seen this for yourself - you've been in many situations where something happened where you felt that the proper response included 'breaking someone down' (i.e., cutting another person up emotionally, stripping them of their psychological defenses and exposing their faults to the world). And have you ever seen it help? I mean think about it. Really. After you've told your friends about it and and they've cheered over every word you said, where did it all end up? You - feeling badly because the Holy Spirit has reminded you that you shouldn't treat people that way. And the other person - bitter, angry, embarassed and hurt. And you have definitely not made that other person see his or her (real or imagined) faults. People automatically rush to defend themselves (right or wrong) in the face of an onslaught. And that's what you were - an onslaught. Remember - HARSHNESS BEGATS HARSHNESS. I don't believe you or I will ever get anywhere as long as we treat people unkindly.

But you know what I have seen work? Calmly talking to another person about what's going on. Asking that person how he or she see things instead of always forcing your point of view on that person. Taking the time to explain how some situation or unkind word affected you - not assuming that person knows and simply doesn't care. In other words, being kind instead of boisterous, self-righteous or hard.

Gentleness. Tenderness.

It's what Jesus showed his diciples as they asked him question after question. At times, they even questioned who he was! He never lost patience. He always spoke kindly. And he equipped those disciples to establish a religion that has had a world-wide impact. That shows clearly the power of a kind word.

Can you be kinder to those who are around you? Can you practice tenderness as you help guide your spiritual brothers and sisters on their own spiritual journeys?


Something the world could use a whole lot more of...

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Friday, July 07, 2006

Summer Madness

Oh, dear readers, I must confess - I've been neglecting you. I think of you often. I wonder how you are. I promise myself that I'll get back to writing soon. But something has overtaken me:

Summer Madness.

Every year it hits me and every year I am surprised by it.

Summer is absolutely, positively my favorite season of the year. I love the heat, I love the clothing, and I love all the outdoor activities. If I haven't traveled all year, I am newly inspired to find some place to go. If I've traveled, I seek locations that represent the season - warm, lush and inviting. If I have new clothes, I want to wear them as soon as I get them home. If I have old clothes, I try to find new ways to wear them. Is it just me?!?

I feel alive. I feel reborn. And, by summer's end: I am exhausted! So much to do. So much to see. So many outdoor festivals to attend. I absolutely love to people watch, and it doesn't get any better than in the midst of midriff tops, low riders, couples and singles alike.

So I have been neglecting you.

I'd like to tell you that I'm growing spiritually as I loaf outside reading my favorite books, catch yet another flight to yet another place or mindlessly watch tv, but that would be untrue. Between early mornings and late nights, I pray (but just barely), read some scriptures (but not nearly as consistently as in the cooler months) and I make plans for my ministry (but mostly just enjoy the sun).

So I ask for your forgiveness and your prayers, but mostly, I hope you all are having fun, too!

How is this summer going for you?

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