For the other fruit of the Spirit posts, check the series index in the margin.
When I think of gentleness, I think of women tenderly nursing sick children (or their husbands), older children gently leading younger children, young adults patiently listening to the elderly tell their stories...in short, I think of areas or tasks that involve a great deal of patience and kindness mixed together. I think gentleness includes these two traits, but it must be more or it wouldn't have its own separate place in the list, right?
I think gentleness ultimately reflects quiet spirit. When I am truly seeking the Lord, spending time before him in prayer and reading Scripture, being still and knowing he is the Lord, then I begin to gain a small understanding of gentleness. As a parent, I have unlimited opportunities to demonstrate gentleness to my children--opportunities at which I fail usually. It seems to me that gentleness comes when we are quiet before the Lord and take that quietness and serenity into every area of our lives. When my oldest toddler spills her milk on the floor while she is practicing drinking out of a "big girl" glass, I can react gently when I correct her and clean up the spill (instead of overreacting and fuming at her and the general situation). When we are running late (usually my fault in the first place), I can gently nudge my three charges to the door rather than ranting and raving. Why do I want to rant and rave (besides my lack of self control)? I think it is because I haven't been quiet before the Lord; I'm letting the circumstances of my day "get to me" and fretting, fuming, stressing about it all. Instead, if I'd left my burdens with the Lord, ceased striving and rested in the knowledge that he is the Lord, then I probably wouldn't get bent out of shape as much. I'd be more equipped to be gentle in my interactions with those around me.
Gentleness also seems to come into play when we must correct someone or share some hard truth with someone we love. This occurs frequently when we are mothering young children; less frequently, we must correct an adult whom we love--perhaps a husband or family member. Rather than "blowing up" or reacting in the heat of the moment, we should pray about the issue and seek the Lord's guidance. Then, we should gently seek to restore that soul to Lord and/or to fellowship. We should let gentleness pervade our attempts at all reconciliation, no matter who the offended party is.
As I've reflected on parenting this year in particular, I've come again and again to the conclusion that if our goals are truly to grow more Christlike, to know him better each and every day, and to see those whom we love also come to know Christ better, then our actions will no doubt reflect the fruit of the Spirit more and more. This may sound obvious, but I think the more subtle fruit of the Spirit, like gentleness, will become more and more noticeable. The fruit of the Spirit often involve dying to self and looking to another's interest and to the glory of God. Keeping this perspective helps us be gentle when we might otherwise be frustrated, angry, or simply self-centered.
I think I have a long way to go in understanding and demonstrating gentleness. It's something I think about often--especially in connection with self control! When I pack my day too full of events, write a to do list impossibly long, create a list of unreachable expectations, start focusing on what others think of me (perhaps because of the way my children are acting), then gentleness goes out the window. In short, whenever I am trying to control my own life instead of seeking the glory of the Lord and the edification of my family, then it's nearly impossible for me to maintain a gentle and quiet spirit. As I pray for this fruit of the Spirit, I'm realizing that I can set myself up for failure by not recognizing the sacrifices I must make in certain areas of my life. So instead of merely praying for gentleness, I also need to pray for wisdom and the ability to set aside activities and interests which are cluttering up my life.
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