By Rev. David Mansfield, Retired Disciples of Christ Pastor
Since retiring, I find I want to do a lot more cussing. I know; pastors are not supposed to curse, but hear me out, please. You see, my arthritic hands don’t work as they used to. I can’t open those snack bags anymore, and even those zip-lock ones cause me grief. I lose my grip on slippery bags, and the contents fall to the floor, requiring clean up. Bottles and jars are sealed tighter than they used to be, it seems to me, so that opening a simple bottle of water can be a chore. All these things I used to do without a thought, but now they are a source of frustration; thus, the choice words come flying out.
A few months ago, I was with a small group of pastors who I meet with for meditation and prayer once a month. When I was asked what I wanted prayer for, I said, “Pray that I stop cursing.” They looked at me with stunned silence, mouths hanging open. One person broke the silence: “Pastor Dave, I can’t imagine you ever cursing.”
I replied, “Well, I do” and explained my story. So they laid hands on me, and each prayed for me, some giggling under their breath in unbelief.
I am happy to report that those prayers were answered sometime later as I was gifted with insight into the spiritual fruit of gentleness. The nine fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (NIV). They are listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Love, joy, and peace are the ones that get top billing, but gentleness seems to get lost. Gentleness is a Christ-like quality. In Matthew 11:29, we read: “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.” Gentleness is an attitude and an action. It is shown in how you love and care for others and how you act and speak. There is strong connection between gentleness and words. We read in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” We all know the power of gentle words at the right time that can be life giving. Gentleness is revealed in daily life by an understanding smile, a comforting touch, the delicate use of compassionate words, a gentle feeling, and a gentle approach to self and others.
Gentleness is evoked by something that is precious and vulnerable like a newborn baby, a new puppy, the innocent question of a child, and an aging saint bound to her bed. Beauty found in a lovely rose or a work of art or experience of time spent in nature can also evoke feelings of gentleness.
We treat things gently because they are fragile and precious, like a flower or something that holds a sentimental value to one we love. Think of gentleness as what you do when you carry three eggs in one hand across a room. The eggs are fragile and precious (due to current rising costs).
If you are as I am, you find it easier to be gentle with others but not so easy to be gentle with yourself. Is it possible to experience myself as precious, fragile, and vulnerable?
Often, I feel disappointed in myself, frustrated by my limitations. Such condemnation does not give rise to gentleness. At such times, I want to “whip myself into shape” or berate myself for some failure. What if, instead of judging myself so harshly, I gently look at myself as a unique gift of God and admit and accept the weakness, which makes me a fragile, earthen vessel? Gentleness towards myself is only possible when I recognize and own my own vulnerability. I must be able to look at myself with a forgiving eye. What would happen if I treated myself like those three eggs in one hand being carried across the room?
So I am learning how to be gentle with myself, accepting my limitations as the circumstances God has placed me in. When I stop fighting my frailties and allow myself to be the earthen vessel that I am, my frustration level goes down, and those words get caught before they fly.