Growing in Gentleness (an Update on August’s Goals & What I Learned)

My overarching goal for August was to become a gentler person [to show restraint coupled with strength and courage] by serving those whom the world deems “below” me, bearing offenses without complaint, allowing John to lead, and by daily stretching my muscles. I used a calendar to keep track of my daily progress.

  1. Faith- (I) Memorize and meditate upon 3 appropriate verses about gentleness each week, (II) pray every day that God would increase my gentleness, (III) meditate on God’s gentleness weekly.

(I) Though I continued the pattern of choosing three verses specifically about gentleness, writing them on index cards weekly, and reciting them at least a couple times per day, if you asked me to recite them from memory, I honestly don’t think I’d be able to. I definitely became slack in this area throughout the month of August.

(II) Despite dropping the ball a bit with my memory verses this past month, I was sure to pray and ask God daily for an increase of gentleness. After all, I cannot forget that it is a fruit of the Spirit; not something I can merely drum up and produce on my own.

(III) I may have done this once or twice, but I definitely wasn’t intentional about it like I should have been.

2. Marriage– (I) Overlook minor offenses and (II) allow John to lead in our marriage (by not questioning or micromanaging him, not telling him how to drive, etc.)

(I) The first week of August John and I didn’t have any conflicts that I needed to overlook. But then God tested me one Sunday morning. Usually John leaves for church at least an hour before I do because he is in charge of the technology and likes to play drums during music practice. But on this particular Sunday we had special guests who were going to lead the congregation in singing and John didn’t need to go early. Since we live right around the block from our church building, I looked forward to walking together to church on this particular morning. But we ended up leaving the house a minute or two behind schedule and my uncompromisingly punctual husband had a one-track mind: getting to church as quickly as he possibly could. No thought about how romantic it’d be to stroll to church hand-in-hand with his wife… No thought about how his wife was wearing uncomfortable shoes that only permitted her to walk only so fast… By the time he turned the first corner from our street, I was several paces behind and the distance was quickly expanding. When I too reached the corner, I resigned myself from even attempting to keep up. In that moment I knew I had a choice. I could harbor bitterness toward my husband for ruining what had been a potentially enjoyable stroll to church, OR I could take advantage of walking alone and pray for my husband on the way to church. By God’s grace, I chose the latter. An incident that could have been blown out of proportion and drove a wedge in my marriage simply became an opportunity to extend gentleness and understanding and love to my husband, instead. 

(II) If you asked me if I was a submissive wife I’d wholeheartedly tell you, “Of course!” But when it comes to the little things like parking a car or making minor decisions, I am the first to attempt to micromanage my marriage and husband. I like to have things under control… my control. That being said, to practice gentleness in the area of allowing my husband to lead was not always easy. I started with insignificant details like allowing him to choose the path we took on our walks or what we watched in the evenings or what kind of pizza we ordered. I knew that if I couldn’t release control in these small areas, I wouldn’t be able to follow him when it came to larger issues within our marriage.

However, there were two particular instances in which I did not submit to John this month. The first time was right before we were heading out the door for family pictures. He was wearing sneakers with his nice khaki shorts and dress shirt. Unfortunately I did not approach the subject gently… without tactfulness I blurted out, “You are NOT wearing those!” My poor husband hardly put up a fight, probably because this was not the first time I’d made demands about his attire, and he knew how stubborn I could be. Thankfully I’m a work in progress.

bigfamily
                    Family Photo by @DavidBruecknerPhotography                          [note John’s shoes to the far left]

The second time I lacked submissive gentleness was at my brother’s wedding. I knew beforehand that my husband does not like to dance and absolutely refuses to do so, yet I badgered him relentlessly about dancing with me. I pointed out other couples who were dancing, reminded him we still hadn’t had our “first dance” together, and even tried to get others to persuade him to dance with me. Talk about a woman who’s a dripping faucet!

john-and-clare
John and I at the wedding

3. Health- (I) Stretch muscles daily and (II) reward myself with a small indulgence once a week.

(I) Though I didn’t stretch every single day in August, I only missed six days total. This one was pretty easy since I usually stretch at least a little before and after going for a run.

running

(II) I don’t remember if I “indulged” in anything the first week of August, but during the second week I enjoyed both gluten-free pizza and ice cream! The ice cream was sweetened with fructose and was actually frozen yogurt, but it was still very much a treat for me. I liked it so much that I went back a couple weeks later for more! I also “treated” myself to delicious homemade desserts, gluten-free hot dog and hamburger buns, potato chips, and extra time relaxing and reading.

4. Homemaking- (I)  Don’t consider any household task “below” me or a waste of time, (II) take on tasks that John usually performs, and (III) tackle a home project I’ve been putting off for years (… cleaning our back porch).

(I) I don’t remember thinking that any of my housework was a waste of time. But toward the end of the month there was one night in which I lost track of time and completely forgot to make my poor husband dinner before scampering off to prayer meeting. And to make matters worse, all of our bowls were dirtied, so he not only had to fix himself oatmeal for dinner but he also had to wash his own bowl, first! After that incident I knew I needed to buckle down and be more diligent about keeping a weekly menu and staying on top of housework.

(II) Since my husband works 50 hours most weeks, leaving early in the morning and not returning home until 7:30pm or later, I assume most of the household responsibilities. There is one that he often does, however: take out the recycling and trash. Unfortunately I didn’t get around to doing this task for him the first week, but was sure to do so in the following weeks. It only took 3 minutes of my time each week, but I know it was a blessing to him.

(III) This was the perfect month to tackle cleaning my back porch since I had so much extra time on my hands. We’ve lived in this duplex for 4 years in October and I had never once vacuumed that porch. It has just always served as more of a storage area than anything else. The only time I looked at it was when I opened the door to recycle a can or box, but I knew it needed to be cleaned and organized sooner or later. I guess I never got around to it earlier because I never made it a priority. It just goes to show how powerful goals can be! I’m so grateful I finally buckled down and made our porch nice and neat.

backporch
My (finally) Clean Back Porch!

5. Interactions- (I) Serve somebody the world considers “below” me each week and (II) bear all offenses without complaint.

(I) This goal was difficult for me because I personally don’t think anybody is below me. But I had to continually remind myself of the phrase, “somebody the world considers “below” me”. So, in the world’s perspective, spending an afternoon watching and playing with children was a waste of my time and energy. In the world’s eyes, the elderly I spent time talking to and connecting with were beneath me. In the world’s eyes, the individuals I ministered to at the crisis pregnancy center were scum. But in God’s eyes–and in my eyes–each and every one are precious and have immeasurable worth and dignity.

(II) I don’t really remember if anybody offended me this past month. Perhaps not, or perhaps if they did I was able to overlook it and thus not even remember it.

6. Books I Read: I’m grateful I was able to read so much during the month of August. I’ve read 65 books so far this year! Here are a few from this past month:

  • The Relationship Cure (John Gottman)

relationshipcure

This book was not written from a Christian perspective, but it was still well-written and founded on excellent research. Though it wouldn’t be the first marital book I’d recommend to a couple, it is still worth the read. It made me more aware of the nuances in my communication with others that either improved the relationship or hindered it. For example, instead of giving one word answers to a question that is asked of me, I have been trying to elaborate more and ask questions in return. Just one more thing to practice in order to improve in the area of communication.

  • The Normal Christian Life (Watchman Nee)

thenormalchristianlife

I enjoyed this book and it gave me plenty to think about. There was one particular point he made that hit me right on the top of the head. Speaking of sanctification and holiness, he explained that Christ Himself is holiness. “Today there is a call for patience: he is our patience! Tomorrow the call may be for purity: he is our purity! He is the answer to every need. That is why Paul speaks of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ as one (Gal. 5:22) and not of ‘fruits’ as separate items.” These are my favorite kind of books, so I’m biased, but you should definitely read this book if you desire to live for Christ.

  • Live Life on Purpose (Claude Hickman)

lifeonpurpose

The main focus of this book was evangelism and missions. Hickman opened my eyes to the fact God is concerned with the fame of His name. After reading this book I started to notice in my quiet times all the times God punishes His people because they have not upheld His great name and all the times God makes mention of all nations fearing Him. Definitely a great book to dive into.

  • Sense & Sensuality (Ravi Zacharias)

sensesensuality

When I picked up this book, it wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. Ravi Zacharias took liberty to write in conversation style between Jesus and the promiscuous Oscar Wilde on his death bed. I like nonfiction works far more than fiction, so it was difficult for me to get into this book. However, he made many wonderful points throughout and it was very thought-provoking.

  • The Unlikely Missionary E-book (Dan King)

the-unlikely-missionary2

I was a little disappointed that this “missionary” was merely in Africa for two weeks. I wasn’t expecting the title to be referring to short-term missions. However, his insights were good and it brought me back to my own short-term experiences in Africa.

  • Disability and the Sovereign Goodness of God E-book (John Piper)

disability-and-the-sovereign-goodness-of-god

I always love John Piper’s works. This one was no exception. He tackled the difficult issue of disability with tact, unifying it with God’s sovereign goodness. He also interviewed a man whose son was born without eyes, delving into the practical, every day application of reconciling pain and suffering in this world with God’s character.

  • Divine Design E-book (John McArthur, Jr.)

divinedesign

Definitely a great read for all Christian couples. I especially appreciated McArthur’s expository explanation of why women are not to exercise authority over man. He doesn’t twist Scripture to make it say what he wants, but he looks closely at each passage dealing with the issue at hand and interprets it in light of its cultural and historical context, laying it all out in an easy-to-understand format. If you want to fulfill your God-given role as a woman, you should definitely read this book.

  • Unglued Audio Book (Lysa TerKeurst)

unglued

I listened to this book while training for my marathon and I really enjoyed it. Though I don’t yet have children, there was plenty that still related to my own personal situation in life. Lisa TerKeurst is honest, sympathetic, and encourages practical application. If you struggle with “losing it” in stressful situations, this book is for you. I liked it so much I am considering buying a hard-copy book and reading it again!

WHAT I LEARNED ABOUT GENTLENESS

Many people mistakenly believe to be gentle is to show weakness. But there is an illustration I came across by Myer Pearlman that has forever changed my perspective on gentleness:

“A guide was taking a group of visitors through a factory. One of the things he showed them was a giant steam hammer capable of flattening an automobile. Then the guide put down a walnut and had the hammer break the shell without hurting the meat of the nut. What an illustration of gentleness as power under perfect control!”

Gentleness is “power under perfect control.” This is no easy feat. To show one’s strength while keeping it under control in the midst of difficult circumstances is… well, HARD. Probably the area in which gentleness is most needed in life is with raising children. Though I do not yet have children of my own, I have a lot of caretaking and ministry experience with children of all ages. When it comes to disciplining children in love, it’s a balancing act. You want to be authoritative in a sense that children will listen and obey. Yet, if you do not have their respect and you do not speak to them in love, it’s likely they will not heed your words.

I had the privilege of witnessing my nephew’s birth many years ago. He is now 12 years old and has been known to get into a spat or two with the adults in his life. When I spent a couple days with him this past month I decided to especially practice gentleness toward him. Kids like him get harped on a lot because they have a lot of energy and can get carried away at times. But I decided ahead of time that I didn’t want to join the chorus of meticulous nit-picking and barking of commands. Instead, I would be intentional about encouraging him when he did something right, be silent when his actions weren’t putting himself or others in danger, and correct gently if the situation warranted it. Guess what happened? He listened to me! Because I spoke to him in love, even when correcting him or asking him to do something, he felt respected and responded with obedience. Nobody likes to be talked down to and though an adult should be the authority over a child, the relationship can still be marked by gentleness.

To show gentleness is to be considerate and courteous. The Greek word translated as gentleness in our English language is “Epiekes”, which literally means equitable, fair, moderate, considerateness, sweet reasonableness, and not insisting on the letter of the law.

I love what Mary Kassian and Nancy Leigh DeMoss have to say about gentleness from their workbook, True Woman 101: Divine Design:

“Gentleness is the opposite of being insistent on one’s own rights, being rude or pushy, or demanding one’s own way… Gentleness means we wholly rely on God rather than our own strength to defend ourselves against difficulty or injustice. It stems from trust in God’s goodness and control over the situation. Gentleness isn’t self-abasement. It’s the mark of the wise woman who remains calm even in the face of other people’s shortcomings.”

As Lysa TerKeurst notes in her book, Unglued, we should “absorb the blow” when we are offended by somebody, just like a pillow absorbs the blow of a fist. This doesn’t mean keeping it inside and letting it fester. It means letting it go. Not allowing the situation to upset you or make you bitter. I wish I had listened to her book earlier in the month because it would have helped me one evening while riding bicycles with my husband.

We had just enjoyed a lovely picnic lunch at the beach and were heading home. Since I am a slower bike-rider, he graciously allowed me to take the lead on our rendezvous. That is until we were 2.5 miles from home and he announced his gluteus maximus was beginning to hurt and he wanted to get home as quickly as possible. He then proceeded to pull in front of my bike and increase the pace two-fold. Despite the fact I was pedaling as fast as I could, the gap was continuing to grow between us and I was becoming increasingly annoyed with my husband. Doesn’t he realize I have to run 16 miles tomorrow? How could he be so inconsiderate? On and on my thoughts went, ripping into the same man that I had been laughing and contentedly conversing with only minutes earlier. Hearing me call out my complaints behind him, he graciously pulled over to wait for me. But instead of slowing down when I reached him, I sped right past, giving him an evil glare and sticking out my tongue at him. So mature, I know. Thankfully, we quickly worked through our dispute, but perhaps Lysa’s advice to “absorb the blow” would’ve been helpful in this instance. Perhaps I would have responded closer to how I did on our walk to church [see update on marriage goals].

I don’t know if they’re true or not, but I’ve read a couple stories about George Washington and how he was a gentle man. One day, while fox hunting with a group of his friends, George Washington’s horse knocked a stone off the wall he had jumped over. Rather than continuing on his way as though nothing had happened, he immediately stopped, got off his horse, and put the stone back in place. Seeing this, one friend declared, “You are too big a man to bother with that.” But George Washington gently responded, “No, I am just the right size.”

george.jpg

On another occasion, George Washington observed a corporal at Valley Forge direct three men as they attempted to lift a heavy log into place. Despite their perseverance and the corporal hollering out, “One, two, three, lift!” over and over, the log was just too heavy. George Washington walked over and asked the corporal, “Why don’t you help them?” Puffing out his chest and smoothing his uniform, the corporal retorted, “Sir, I am a corporal.” Without a word, General George Washington began to help the struggling men and in a matter of moments, the log went easily into place.

What an example of true gentleness. George Washington did tasks that were- by the world’s standards- below him. He had position and power that he could have used to demand the prideful corporal to pitch in and get his hands a little dirty. Instead, George Washington led by example. His actions spoke far louder than his words and I am sure the corporal learned a lesson he never forgot on that day.

Reflecting on this one day led me to apply for a job I had previously overlooked. It was a janitorial position. I’ve had several custodial jobs in the past and didn’t mind the work, but as I was doing my preliminary job searching I decided to forgo applying to this particular position because it was “below my pay range.” I have a bachelors degree, so why should I consider a job like that? Unfortunately, that was my original attitude, but once I realized this was an opportunity to exhibit gentleness, I immediately applied for the job. For reasons I’m unaware of, I was not chosen for the position, but I learned an important lesson along the way: no job, no duty, and no person is below me. 

George Matheson says it best:

“Of Moses it was to be said in miniature what of his Antitype can be said in full- that his gentleness made him great. Not when he parted the waters of the Red Sea, not when he sang his hymn of triumph on the shores of liberty, is he half so great as when he bore the sorrows and endured the murmurings of that rude, undisciplined multitude. If ever a man has inherited the earth by meekness, that man was Moses. His was a grand, unselfish life, made to wait upon the lives of others.”

I would love for people to say that of my life. But how did Moses become a man known for his gentleness? I believe it was his close walk with God, his life of unceasing prayer and dependence upon the Lord.

As I mentioned above, one of the books I read this past month was The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. His arguments changed the way I prayed about gentleness. For example, on August 8th my prayer was, “Lord, help me be gentle in my demeanor, for Jesus’ sake,” while on August 18th after finishing Nee’s book my prayer was, “Jesus, I want You. Demonstrate Your gentleness through me, for Jesus’ sake.” I realized that He is all I need.

prayer
An example of a prayer I wrote from my journal.

“It does not matter what your personal deficiency, or whether it be a hundred and one different things, God has always one sufficient answer, his Son Jesus Christ, and he is the answer to every human need.”

I began to ask for more of Jesus, knowing that the more I have of Him, the more I am like Him. And the more I am like Him, the more I will exhibit fruit such as gentleness. Lord, give me Jesus.

 

What are your thoughts on gentleness?

 

 

 

Advertisements

Let me know what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s