Monday, March 2, 2015

The Eighth Fruit: Gentleness (MNM 12)

“Rejoice in the Lord always. 
I will say it again: Rejoice! 
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving,
present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding,
will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 4:4-7  New International Version


Soaking in the Scripture (Section One)

Today, spend some time reflecting on this week’s scripture.  Read it a few times, perhaps in different translations, or even aloud.  

Is there a word or phrase that strikes you as particularly relevant to your life during this season? 

Give yourself some time to think, journal, or talk with a friend about the thoughts that emerge from your time of reflection.

Also, try and find time to share this verse with each of your family members in ways that are appropriate to each of them, and see what kinds of conversations happen.


Digging Deeper (Section Two)

Begin by looking again at this week’s passage, and recall the ideas that came to mind when you spent time with it previously.

When I read this scripture, I notice that some of the key words connect with feelings or emotions:

                    joy                     anxiety                   thankfulness                peace

If you were trying to help your child understand each of these words, how would you explain them?  How do you personally define joy, anxiety, gentleness, thankfulness, and peace?

If it helps, think back on recent days and recall instances when you experienced one or more of these feelings:

*  When have you felt joy?
*  When have you experienced anxiety?
*  What about gratitude?  Have you felt an inclination towards thankfulness anytime recently?
*  When have you felt a sense of peace?

Now consider these questions:

*  What do you consider to be the opposite of joy?  In other words, what does “un-joyfulness” look like?
*  Which emotion seems to be at the other extreme from anxiety or worry?
*  If you are something other than grateful, what label would you give that emotion?  What is it like to be un-grateful?
*  In moments when you are not peaceful, how might you describe your feelings?  What does “un-peaceful” look like?

For me—peace is the opposite of anxiety.  When I truly am free of worry, I consider myself as being filled with peace.  If, on the other hand, I lack peace, it’s because I feel anxious, tense, worried.

There seems to be a similar relationship—at least for me—between joy and gratitude:  if I don’t feel joy, it is often because my current circumstances don’t really move me towards gratitude.  But if my life has lots of things for which I am thankful, I often have a feeling of joy.

Now let’s take a look at another word, which is also the fruit we’ll focus on this week: The word is gentleness. 

First, think back on recent days, and recall instances during which you’d characterize yourself as gentle. 
* What were you doing? 
* Who were you with? 
* Do you remember anything about your mindset or thoughts during that instance?

Now, see if you can recall a recent experience during which you were what you see as the opposite of gentle. . . . . un-gentle.
* What were you doing? 
* Who were you with? 
* Do you remember anything about your mindset or thoughts during that instance?

I’ll close with a few final questions for you to ponder:  Why do you think Paul follows the exhortation to “let your gentleness be evident to all” with a reminder that “the Lord is near?”  Is there, perhaps, a cause-effect relationship between remembering God’s abiding presence and our ability to be gentle?  And, on the other hand, is our tendency to be un-gentle related to a sense that God isn’t particularly near or available to us?


One Family’s Story (Section Three)


Just the other day, the title for this short piece caught my eye.  So I clicked.  And I think you might enjoy it too, so let’s use it to start this section.  Just click here:  Why Moms Get Nothing Done

Before we move on, I have to give a shout-out to Esther Anderson and her fun site, storyofthislife.com.  It's worth a visit, if you have the time.

Now, lets talk about the video.

First, is this scene heartwarmingly precious?  Yes!  Especially when accompanied by sweet music . . . . and limited to 80 seconds confined to a 13 or 3 inch screen.

But . . . when it happens for hours at a time, day after day, in your own home, is this situation potentially exasperating?

Absolutely!!

Watching that angel-faced blondie “help” around the house—and seeing her mother exhibit miraculous amounts of patience—took me right back to the days when I had “helpers” too . . . when my little ones were busily doing their toddler-work of exploring the world while undoing the mama-work I was trying to accomplish.

Some days I handled my “helpers” well.  I was patient.  Amused at their antics.  Accepting of their natural, innocent inclination to un-do the tasks I was trying to complete.  Guiding and re-directing them, but gently.    

Other days, though, I would’ve done just about anything to STOP those little people.   Impatient.  Irritated.  Unwilling to accept that it just takes longer to get things done with a crawler and a toddler. 

On those days, I shifted into problem-solving mode, concocting all sorts of “creative parenting” strategies.  My goal?  Redirect my children so that I could my complete my tasks in a timely, efficient manner. 

Sometimes my efforts were successful.  But (no surprise here) more often they were not.  Irritation would grow into frustration . . . not just with the many interruptions they created, but with my inability to figure out how to get them to fall into step with what I thought I needed to be doing.

As you can imagine, this mindset was a recipe for nothing good.  The more my children kept me from accomplishing my duties around the house, the more I struggled to figure out how to manage them well.  When those efforts weren’t effective, I just worked harder to control the situation—and them.  The result?  Let’s just call it un-gentle-ness.

Those weren’t particularly pretty-mama days.  That I knew.  But I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.

It was in the midst of that un-gentle season when I ran across a passage from Henri Nouwen, whose writing has been such an encouraging companion in my faith-journey.  His words spoke straight to my struggle:

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know . . . my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

God used that little passage from Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out, to give me a new way to experience the constant interruptions that come along with mothering two very young children.

For some reason, I had begun to view my ability to “solve” the “problem” of my children’s interruptions as my work.  And I also perceived it a measurement of my relationship with God.  On the rare occasions when I “succeeded” at managing my children and accomplishing my tasks, I felt I was also “succeeding” at following Christ.  This meant that I was near to Him, and He was near to me.

But when I wasn’t so successful (which was pretty much all the time)—when I couldn’t figure out how to complete my “to-do” list in a timely manner (without the interruptions two little ones will always bring) . . . well, that meant I wasn’t succeeding in my walk with God, either.  And it also made me wonder why He wasn’t helping me parent more effectively.  Truth be told, my failure to “solve” this “problem”—and the fact that God was allowing it a constant part of my day-to-day experience—made me begin to wonder whether He was really available to help me.  So in a season when I desperately needed to sense His abiding presence, I began to worry that He was far away from me, rather than nearby. 

Nouwen himself was impacted by this professor’s story.  He goes on to write about how interruptions deepened his own faith:

“It has been the interruptions to my everyday life that have most revealed to me the divine mystery of which I am a part. . . .  All of these interruptions presented themselves as opportunities. . . inviting me to look in a new way at my identity before God.  Each interruption took something away from me; each interruption offered something new.”

These words continue to challenge me today, at home and in the workplace.  And they also help me understand something important about the spiritual fruit of gentleness, which is defined in Vine’s Expository Dictionary as the willingness to accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting.”


When I view unexpected circumstances as a signal that God is distant, I become fearful.  Sensing that my job is to change things, I feel the need to force my way, to control the situation so that it goes the way I’d planned.  So I make it my work to create circumstances that are predictable, pleasant, or at least effective.  Ultimately, when I make the mistake of seeing interruptions as a sign of God’s absence, I find it almost impossible to act in ways that are gentle. 

But when—like Nouwen—I embrace the circumstances as part of God’s abiding presence, everything changes.  Instead of seeing unexpected circumstances or interruptions as something to resist or change, I can accept them as opportunities.  I can look for how “each interruption” is God “offering me something new” 


Perhaps this is why it is that Paul’s exhortation to “let our gentleness be evident to all” is followed with the reassuring reminder that “the Lord is near.”  Remembering God’s near-ness in every circumstance is—for me—the antidote to un-gentle behavior, and the key to gentleness.


Your Family’s Story (Section Four)

Today, spend a few minutes remembering the things you’ve read and thought of so far this week. 

As God’s beloved and uniquely created daughter, and because He is living in and through you, it’s likely that you are already living out the quality of gentleness in your life.  Ask God to help you identify places in your life where this fruit is blossoming, and celebrate His work in your life.

You may find it helpful, too, to notice what happens in your mind and heart when you encounter unexpected interruptions during the day.  What emotions do these events trigger?  What thoughts enter your mind?  Are you enthusiastic?  Expectant?  Irritated?  Confused?  How do such experiences impact your sense of God's nearness?  Do you wonder where He went, or are you grateful for His continuing to walk beside you?  If you were to remind yourself of His abiding presence, might it change your heart and mind in any way?  Take a few minutes to have a simple conversation with your little ones about your own thoughts and feelings.  You might even initiate a talk with them about how they experience transition or unexpected schedule changes.  If such adjustments seem to cause stress, see what happens when you reassure them through touch and words that you are right there with them.


Finally, ask God to help you think of a few ways you might continue to cultivate gentleness in your own heart as well as your other family members’.  As you jot down ideas, pray for the discernment to recognize those that are good fits for your family members’ unique, God-created personalities.  Then, as time allows, talk about your ideas with them, and continue to pray for wisdom.

Wisdom for the Journey (Section Five)

As you know, we've already covered a lot of material during this reading.  So I encourage you to be prayerful and selective as you look through these other resources.  The goal isn't to create an unattainable to-do list, or just another way to measure up, but to ask God to give you what you need . . . as you need it.

My thinking is that there's a clear connection between the spiritual fruit of gentleness and non-cognitive traits like humility, kindness, citizenship, and fairness--characteristics that have to do with how we treat others.  Although I have so far to go in the journey of cultivating gentleness, I am finding that when I am able to approach the people and circumstances in my life from the vantage point of knowing God is ever-present, I can remember that it's not my job to control things or individuals.  This perspective frees me to relax into whatever God brings my way -- even unwanted or difficult circumstances, so that I can look for what God might be bringing into my life.   Sometimes, I am able to avoid pitfalls like acting in ways that are prideful, forceful, unkind, or self-serving.

One area where I especially struggled with gentleness had to do with my own personal prayer times.  Trying to maintain any kind of "quiet time" has always been a struggle for me, and with young children in the house, it only became more challenging.  If that is your experience as well, you may find encouragement in this article, recently posted on Christianity Today.  

Finally, if you have any ideas you'd like to share about ways you have found to nurture gentleness in yourself or your children, I'd love to hear them . . . . feel free to leave comments below.

Know that I'm praying for each of you, and continue to be grateful for the opportunity to walk with you during this sweet and challenging season of motherhood!  Till next time, blessings and hugs!

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The ninth (and final!) spiritual fruit is self-control.  If you're ready for that post, click here.

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