Recently, one of my children was faced with a disappointing set of circumstances. He had worked hard; he had done his best; he had put a lot of emotional energy into this particular thing; and it didn’t work out the way he had hoped. And as we were trying to sort through all those emotions, it occurred to me that this scenario was one we all face to varying degrees through our whole lives.
Despite our best efforts, we get disappointed. And in light of that, whether you’re 7 or 70, here is what seems like a good principle to remember:
Much of life is about what you do next.
That’s because we are always going to have circumstances that don’t go the way we think they should. And we can’t control that. What we can control, however, is how we react. We can control what we do next. We can control how we treat the person who has blown up at us, or the friend we thought we could trust, or the attitude we have when we have to go back to work or school after that disappointment.
And one of the words the Bible uses to describe the way we should react in these circumstances is gentleness:
- Gentleness is one of the fruits of the spirit (Gal. 5:22-23).
- We are told to let our gentleness be evident to all (Phil. 4:5).
- We are to clothe ourselves with characteristics like gentleness (Col. 3:12).
The Christian is to be a gentle person, but that’s a hard thing, isn’t it? Especially when things aren’t going your way and the temptation is to be angry. Hurt. Entitled. Bitter. So how can we grow in this attribute? Perhaps by remembering a few truths like these:
1. No one is finished.
One of the hardest times to be gentle is when someone else is not being gentle with you. It’s easiest in that moment to react in kind – to treat anger with anger. To help us grow in gentleness, though, we should remember that the person who has just treated us so roughly is in process.
Those people that are hard to be around? Those people that are annoying? God is working in them, and He’s not done yet. No matter what group we come from, no matter what our personalities, and no matter what our struggles, the thing we have in common, if we are in Christ, is that we are on the same journey. God is working in us all, and moving us all toward Christlikeness. So we should be gentle with those around us out of a recognition of that work. We should embrace that these people, along with us, are moving steadily, if not slowly, toward who God has made us to be in Christ, but they are not finished.
2. There is more to the story.
Again, when someone treats us roughly, the temptation is for us to react roughly back. But another truth that can help us react differently – more gently – is the fact that the person we have just interacted with has a lot more going on in their lives than this particular interaction.
Who knows what their day has been like? Or their month? Or year? Who knows the extent of the pain or difficulty or anxiety they are carrying around? Certainly not us – we only know that we’ve been blown up on, but it’s very likely that this blow up is an accumulated result of a lot of other things. Remembering that there is always more to the story helps us depersonalize that reaction and treat that person gently.
3. God is gentle with you.
But the greatest truth to help us grow in gentleness is just reflecting on how gentle God has been with us. We are sinners, each and every one of us. We wrong God countless times every day, and yet His grace never runs dry. He is patient with us. Gentle with us. Just as others are on a journey toward Christlikeness, so are we, and it is a slow road.
But God is patient. He is gentle. And He is moving us along that road at a good, steady pace. The next time, then, we feel that anger bubbling inside of us, especially when things haven’t gone our way, we would do well to remember just how slowly and gently, like a patient Father, God has been with us. We can call these things to mind and find the same love with which God loved us replacing that sense of entitled anger. And we can react more gently.