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 from 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?