Roughly five years ago, Chaz and I were sitting in a circle with several other couples and Dave, our Bible study leader. We'd just finished reading Philippians 4, and were spending a little extra time marinating in verses 4 through 7:
"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 every situation, 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 minds in Christ Jesus."
It was a familiar passage, one that I'd had memorized for years, thanks to many drop off and pick up trips to and from school with my dad. We'd used those for Bible verse memorization on the regular.
Gentleness. A word that had been used to describe me since those earlier years of memorization drives. Like love, I often felt it covered a multitude of personality "sins." Too soft spoken to be heard in the classroom? I was just gentle. Too timid to participate in the getting-to-know-you activities in first grade? Gentleness strikes again. Won the "Quietest" superlative award as a graduating senior in high school? No need to feel bad that the Best Musician award went to a popular girl in chorus. "Quietest" is another way to describe my more gentle traits.
For a long time I'd assumed that gentleness (and its cousin, meekness) was one of the lesser virtues. It went hand in hand with being shy and "a follower" rather than "a leader," and since it seemed as though the church admired, revered, and praised the extroverted side of evangelism, gentleness didn't seem like something that I should truly seek after by itself.
I wised up a bit later down the road. "What does "gentleness" mean here? What does that look like in our daily lives?" prompted Dave in our Bible study circle that evening five years ago. We all sat in silence for a minute or two, like we often did after a question was asked. Who really wants to answer first, after all? I finally piped up.
"It's a rather fierce thing, isn't it?"
It turned out that gentleness didn't have to do with quietness or shyness after all. Gentleness stems from a deep assurance that the Lord is near. That we don't need to be anxious about anything. That we can rejoice in all circumstances, and that from that abundance of assurance, we can approach living with a fierceness and fearlessness that calms an unquiet heart.
I've been thinking a lot about gentleness and motherhood lately, given that motherhood is my primary job these days. Blog post after blog post, article after article, book after book has been written focusing on "mom guilt" and the responsibility and anxiety that comes along with mothering children. So much so that I often feel more guilt admitting that I don't usually struggle with those things than I feel about motherhood itself. It somehow seems selfish, haughty, or negligent to feel capable and confident, so please don't assume this means I think I'm a perfect mother. Far from it. I have made and will make mistakes, and I'm as covered in baby body fluids and food scraps as the next parent who didn't make it through her to-do list for the day. And I have an active, strong-willed daughter who isn't above throwing a nice tantrum in Target if she doesn't get her way. But for the most part, these aren't things that I spend a lot of time being concerned about. Mistakes are followed by apologies and forgiveness. Food scraps can be cleaned up. My to do list can (most of the time) wait. Tantrums are managed, or at least survived. As long as gentleness, rejoicing, thanksgiving, peace, and love are my focus in mothering, my child is going to be alright. I am capable, and where I am not, God is. Gentleness, it seems to me, is knowing that His grace is sufficient for me. His grace is sufficient for my children. His grace is sufficient to allay any anxiety, and I can rest. Take that, mom guilt.
I don't know if Deborah - one of my favorite Old Testament characters - ever felt a guilty prickle in her conscience when she left her home (and presumably children) to accompany Barak and 10,000 Israelite men to fight the king of Canaan. But I do know that marching off to oversee a war while simultaneously judging Israel and prophesying isn't something that could be done while filled with doubt and insecurity. She, and later Jael as well, is a woman sure of herself and her actions because she is sure of God's faithfulness. If those aren't characteristics that should be emulated, I don't know what else there could be. That type of gentle self assurance is certainly something that I want my daughter to aspire to, and if I want that for her, I need to live that way myself. I think it's finally time for me to embrace it.