But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faith, gentleness and self-control... Galatians 5:22-23
I went a few rounds on Facebook. Again. And then repented for my tone. Again. I'm beginning to think that social media may not the best arena for me. I get too riled up. My posts tend toward sarcasm, bordering on snark. Ignoring a challenge is not in my DNA. Sigh. I am way too eager to explain; to be understood; to demonstrate that I am not a nutjob. Which of course sometimes makes me look like a nutjob. Most of all I can see that my inability to humbly and graciously allow others to express their opinions, 'uncorrected', demonstrates an immature need to be right…and accepted. Double sigh. And after every, single, internet brouhaha, not only have I not persuaded anyone to my viewpoint, I end up snappish and irritated. Not a model of the gentleness that Jesus displayed when He was attacked.
Gentleness is an undervalued trait in our culture—words come to mind like weak, docile, soft, mousy or defenseless. That cannot be right for Jesus is gentle. And I don't mean 'gentle Jesus, meek and mild,' for when folks use that cliché they are describing a Jesus who surely never existed—a nice Sunday School Jesus who'd never hurt a fly. Jesus is gentle, but He is also the Jesus who threw the moneychangers out of the Temple; who boldly laid down His life then took it up again. The One who will return in kingly splendor, thrash the enemy, restore the world and set it running the way originally intended. So gentleness is not weak, it is strong, decisive and brave. It takes courage and strength to determine ahead of time to treat people like God would, no matter how we are treated in return. My Facebook forays reveal that I have a long way to go.
Gentleness does not wait to be treated well before treating others with kindness and respect. In a moment of potential conflict, it is a voluntary abdication of rights, choosing instead to rely on the vindication of God. It is neither the result of low self-esteem, nor a passive mindset. To me it feels like cowardice not to answer every challenge I'm presented, but Jesus was silent before His accusers. Was He a coward? Did He have nothing intelligent to say? Of course not; He was simply more concerned with God’s glory and reputation than His own. Jesus' love for God caused Him to trust in God rather than defend Himself.
I am frustrated that our culture has become so shallow that knee-jerk outrage over stupid stuff counts as noble character these days. And I am ashamed that we Christians are partly to blame for that. We are just as prone to micro-aggression and misinformation as anyone else. I expend way too much energy fighting paper dragons with clever come-backs. Every day real injustice and catastrophe arise, perhaps my outrage should be reserved for them. Jesus has entrusted us with the words of life, yet I throw out one-liners like a kid in the locker room snapping towels at everyone.
There is no question that we are on a learning curve here. The world is finally figuring out that our faith makes us different. It's a new reality to find that a great number of people think we are no better than terrorists—that Christianity is unintelligent, bigoted and hateful. It is natural to be shocked, angry and defensive at the level of ignorance and vitriol. But I have to discern the real issue here. Am I supposed to prove that I am right, or live and speak in such a way that Jesus' character is illuminated? Our world grows increasingly dark, but I can't help with that unless I'm holding a light folks will be drawn to. Ultimately I need to decide who's in charge of my reputation, me or God. When I must engage—and I'm still learning that I don't always need to—it should be in a gentle, winsome manner. I can scream all day long, "Daggone it, treat me with respect!" But arguments aren't won by shouting down the opposition. If my first inclination is to go on the attack, what am I winning? No one for Christ, that's for sure!
When He walked the earth, everything Jesus said and did was a choice made to please and obey His Father (John 5:19, 30). Jesus' example shows me how far short of that standard I am, but also makes me want to more completely yield to God. I want my hard, selfish heart softened to make room for more of Jesus—and those He loves—in my life. This is a painful journey, though I suspect a necessary one.
Father help me to stand for what is right, but in a manner that is also right. Help me to take a breath and check my motives before I run my mouth.