My daughter is about to complete her first year of gymnastics. Her coaches emphasise strength and discipline, but also grace, control and poise. When she correctly walks from one end of the beam to the other there’s a beauty and a gentleness to her movements. The final performance belies the falls, the awkwardness of failed handstands, and the hours of practice and conditioning.
Then there are the boys. From my observation, boys gymnastics training is quite different from the girls’. They are in continual motion. They fling themselves around apparatus with total abandon. The coaches I watch do a fantastic job of channeling the aggression and energy into exercises where it seems the boys almost don’t notice they’re training rather than playing.
At some point, the boys will learn grace, control and poise, but not today. Their routines emphasise strength and power rather than gentleness and beauty.
This dichotomy poses challenges for churches.
Jesus describes himself as gentle and humble in Matthew 11:29,
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Later, the apostle, Paul, would tell Christians in a church he knew well that Gentleness was a mark of the Holy Spirit’s presence in their lives.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
But who wants to be gentle? Who starts out in life saying, “I hope my legacy is one of gentleness.“?
I suspect most of us like people to be gentle toward us. We don’t appreciate anger, harsh criticism, or violence directed at us. But that doesn’t mean we aspire to gentleness ourselves. We want to climb mountains, overcome challenges, fling our bodies around with reckless abandon, and play sports to win.
How can churches hope to attract competitive, adventurous men and women if God’s goal is make them gentle?
Thankfully, this list of spiritual fruit isn’t exhaustive. The apostle Peter writing to a different audience includes a similar list.
Make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. (2 Peter 1:5-7)
This list seems to replace gentleness with perseverance. That seems like a trait all those gymnasts need, and all Christians need also.
Before you start thinking that I want to take Gentleness out of the Bible, let me assure you that’s not the case. For those of us who go through life hurling ourselves at obstacles always playing to win, then we need to know that God values gentleness.
Accomplishments are great. Achieving goals is admirable. But not at all costs. Gentleness reminds us of the humanity of those around us. It reminds us to care for others. Gentleness reminds us that we don’t win when we destroy someone else in the process.
But for those who would turn Christians into delicate flowers of civility and gentleness, God also reminds us that His Spirit gives us strength to persevere when circumstances conspire against us. Gentleness by itself doesn’t reflect the wholeness of God.
The challenge for our churches and individual Christians is to reveal the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives through both our gentleness and our strength. And knowing when each is needed requires divine wisdom from the Holy Spirit also.
Whatever our natural inclination God encourages to unshackle our faith and expand our character as he transforms us from who we’ve been to who we can become.