This is an ongoing “Fruit of the Spirit” series featuring my past perspectives from December 2019 along with my present-day reflections in 2020. Check out my series intro, my first post about love, my second about joy, my third about peace, my fourth about patience, my fifth about kindness, my sixth about goodness, my seventh about faithfulness, and now my next installment on gentleness below.
Dean from December 2019
I grew up hyper-conservative — like, the opening of Mean Girls with homeschoolers talking about guns being made to kill dinosaurs. In reality, all the examples of homeschoolers in Mean Girls describe me. But I digress.
My view of Christianity growing up had almost nothing to do with “gentleness.” I was coming of age in the Culture War years, so I learned apologetics in order to debate atheists. And I most definitely abstained from any worldly thing possible, loudly proclaiming my beliefs and objections.
Thus, for many years, gentleness was a foreign concept to me. Even after actually coming to know Christ in college, I still didn’t get gentleness.
Jesus turned over tables in the temple – aren’t we supposed to do the same?
I used to know well the verses where Jesus mentioned coming to cause division. They do exist — and I used them to defend my argumentative self.
It wasn’t until years into my faith that I realized something was at play. I defeated an atheist friend in a debate for perhaps the tenth time in a row (I wish I could say I was exaggerating).
Repeatedly, for months, we had gone head to head about my faith versus his beliefs. Each time, I won the debate. At this final battle, I knew I had won him over. I honestly thought I was about to convert him. But his final statement crushed me:
“Well, even if there is a God, I just don’t want to believe in Him.”
What went wrong? I did everything right!
In my desire to win the argument, I had belittled my friend at every turn and turned him off to God. Why would he want to serve a God that produced a dogmatic follower, intent only on proving people wrong?
I realized that day that salvation is a heart issue. And heart issues are not typically won through debate — they are won through love and care.
With my sexuality, there is a tendency to be dogmatic to the people around me. I can either berate Christians into “accepting” me; I can berate LGBT+ individuals into “accepting” my convictions; or I can berate the two groups into why both are wrong about each other.
But this does nothing. Not anything worthwhile anyway.
I honestly don’t know what gentleness means as a fruit of the Spirit. I’m still correcting multiple decades’ worth of bad perceptions.
Perhaps 2020 will be when gentleness becomes a part of my life . . .
Dean in November 2020
I am not a gentle person. This is what I have learned so far.
Honestly, this realization has surprised me. I’d have gladly said that gentleness would be an easy fruit for me to walk through — after all, I’ve left those old ways of the Culture War debating in the past, right?
I endured three different situations this past month that revealed the lack of gentleness in my life. I failed each miserably.
The first involved a fellow churchgoer accusing me of being a heretic, teaching Christian kids to abandon the Bible and their beliefs. I was so angry.
I wanted to push back and fight the guy in a debate. I knew I was far more biblically grounded in my beliefs than he was — he wouldn’t be able to stand against me in a battle of biblical literacy.
I was absolutely not focused on gentleness. Someone wrongly attacked me; he deserved to pay.
The second encounter involved my telling a friend that I was upset over something he’d shared. While I thought I was gentle enough, my approach was more along the lines of flipping a table into his face than just flipping a table. It ended poorly, including the deletion of my Twitter account.
I couldn’t understand why my friend couldn’t see my side. I knew I was right — why was he adamant in being wrong?
The final situation occurred at my former church. I went back to hear a close friend preach. The experience as a whole was extremely difficult, and I ended up falling into a bad PTSD episode.
I reeled in the days following. How could I tell my friend about my hurt? How could I ensure he would see my side?
This is why an idea of gentleness started to take hold.
You see, I had considered gentleness to be relevant to a “volume control.” A gentle person would not raise his or her voice, no matter what. However, this is a highly incorrect statement.
What I have experienced makes me think of gentleness more as this: if you get hit, the person who hit you doesn’t get hurt from the punch. And you don’t hit back — you simply respond in a way that allows the Holy Spirit to do the punching (or convicting, to be more theologically accurate).
A gentle person will stand up for what’s right. Gentleness is not the opposite of boldness; however, a gentle person will not cause pain.
Gentle people will simply point to what is right. Conviction comes from God, and any pain is the pain of letting go sin.
I don’t think this is the whole picture yet, though. I still have much more to learn on gentleness. But this is a better start than I’ve had before.
And with regard to my sexuality — well, if I point to what is right, what better display of gentleness than to take the punches and let God convict?
Do you struggle with gentleness as a fruit of the Spirit? How do you typically respond to “punches” from others?
I know you stated that you don’t see yourself as a gentle person, but I’ve often experienced your friendship in quite the opposite way. Doesn’t mean we both can’t be right, as I definitely want to affirm the gentleness I’ve received from you time and again. Love you, Dean.
Thank you, Tom — I appreciate you and love, brother.
Dean…there’s a time and place for everything. Gentle men cannot always be gentle when truth is at stake or even personal convictions. I can think of a couple of guys that were generally gentle except when something other than gentleness was required.
Consider Moses. The KJV says that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3), But if you read Exodus 32, you will see that while he intercedes with God for his people, he pretty much calls down fire on the perpetrators. I’m sure it was not perceived as gentle, but it is what had to happen.
Then there’s Jesus. He is gentle and humble of heart (Matt 12:28-30), but if you read John 2:13 ff, you will see Jesus being anything but gentle…or maybe it was gentle compared to what he really wanted to do.
So you see, you are not alone in wanting to be gentle, but also understood, sometimes people need a bit of fire to make them think. It may take them awhile to come around and they may never come around, but the interaction can create learning and understanding for everyone involved. Paul had no use for John Mark early on in Acts, but as he approached his end (in II Timothy 4) he wanted John Mark with him. Go figure.Sometimes gentleness comes with age.
So be gentle. Be strong. But don’t compromise your principles unless you see the need to change them.
Thank you for the Scriptural examples, Sergei. I definitely have a lot more to understand about gentleness in every part of my life.
Thanks for being gentle with me.
I only know you from your posts and the podcasts, and you seem like a warrior and the best kinda friend to have. You have this fierce gentleness, the kind that answers attacks with truth, like Jesus saying, when Pilate tells him he can destroy him, you have no authority unless it was given you from above. Gentleness is character of heart that gives back the good you’ve received in the hard things you’re led thru. From where I’m looking, you’ve got tons of that.
Thank you, Alan, I greatly appreciate your encouragement. It’s easy to miss the big picture at times in the muck of life.
Dean, I am also not a gentle person although I desperately want to be. Your examples of where you weren’t gentle as you wanted to be are very familiar territory for me. I believe God gave me a very strong personality (Enneagram 1 w 2) so I could adequately cope with my SSA, successfully lead my family and be successful in business and at church, and to be a strong encourager of men. Unfortunately, gentleness cannot be found as one of my traits when dealing with these areas of my life at times. My need to be “right” drives my words past the bounds of gentleness at times and I have gotten in big trouble over my words in the past. Allowing the Holy Spirit to convict? If only I would think of that sooner before a torrent of words come out of my mouth. I commend you in your search to be “gentle”.