I am not a gentle person by nature. Many of my high school peers and even my youth sponsors from that season of life can attest to this. I tend to be a bit of a bulldozer–both physically as well as verbally. I wish that weren’t the case, but it is. The last 20 years of yielding to the Holy Spirit in this area has definitely helped, but let’s just say it’s still not a sure bet.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t usually beat up on people any more. (Although I did let loose on an unsuspecting man last Friday. I think he’s fully recovered, though.) I just say things in a not-so-gentle way. And, if those words don’t actually come out of my mouth, they kind of come out in my attitude, which I think might be just as bad. I once had a preacher tell me that he could tell what I was thinking from the pulpit. This is very inconvenient at times…especially when I’m thinking about lunch.
I have a precious friend in the same boat. She and I work really hard to not always say what we think…or to at least to say what we think in a kind, productive way IF it needs to be said at all. She has remarked on more than one occasion that, after her husband (one of those naturally gentle types) or someone else kind of scolds her for not speaking gently–especially if she’s been practically biting her tongue until it bleeds–she wants to defend herself with, “If only you knew all of the things that I thought and did NOT say!!”. I feel the say way. If I’m gonna get dinged for not speaking gently, I want to get points for all of the times I edit my words for gentleness before they come out of my mouth! This same friend also lamented that, even when she successfully filters her words, her expression gives her thoughts away. She says she and I need face filters. Too true.
Anyway, one of the easy ways I have learned to be gentler with my words is to just not speak them right away. I had to walk away from my email last week before I responded to something someone said. I went through my morning as usual, occasionally formulating a reply in my mind, until I came up with one that was respectful and true. There are times I don’t do that and I wish I had.
Social media is the worst for this. It is amazing how emotionally-charged some of those threads are. I learned this the hard way in my first couple years of Facebook-dom. The fact is that not many people really care about my opinion on social media, and I am not doing them any favors by posting it–especially on their thread. It would almost be like a friend inviting me into her home and offering me a cup of coffee…and me pouring my coffee on her floor and leaving.
Facebook offers us a remarkable trust–a look into the thoughts and feelings of the people we call friends. It gives us opportunity to pray specifically for them, reach out to them when we wouldn’t otherwise know they’re hurting and to better understand their perspective. We don’t have to agree with them (and it’s sometimes best if we un-follow them), but we can still stand on common ground with them. Whether they’re grade school friends, high school teammates, extended family, past co-workers or whoever, they’re people who have had a place in our lives and deserve our respect.
(Yes, there are those people who are toxic and crazy and who would love to drain the very lifeblood from our limbs. These are the folks whom we can feel free to un-friend in order to be healthier. However, we can still do so respectfully.)
Let your gentleness be evident to all. This is what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:5. Paul was not a gentle man. He spoke harshly and sometimes acted harshly. I bet he could’ve even used a face filter. His gentleness came from knowing Jesus and submitting his natural tendencies to the Power of the Holy Spirit.
Many of us Christians are not very good at being gentle. We’re either “gentle” to the point of weak-minded (which isn’t at all what Paul is talking about here) or we scream the Truth of Jesus Christ in such a harsh, abrasive and judgmental way that we turn people off to Who Jesus really was on this earth. Jesus was gentle. He was meek. He had tremendous power/authority/integrity, and His very life proved it. He lived in humility and meekness, serving the under-served. He didn’t scream His point-of-view on the street corners. He lived His point-of-view for decades before beginning to speak out.
I wonder what Jesus would’ve posted on Facebook.
As a Christian, my job is to be a light that draws others to Jesus–a warm, inviting light that represents safety and security. My job is not to be a spotlight–harsh and painful and repelling. Once people give their lives to Christ, He can shine the spotlight of His Holy Spirit on their sins as He is compelled to do. Our job is to gently speak the Truth in love. His job is change people’s lives.
It’s time to focus more on showing how God has changed us and less on what needs changed in others.