Sometimes it’s easier to be right than to be gentle.
I find this especially true in my own life when listening to someone who is frustrated or angry. Because, just like when I’m feeling those feelings, rationale sometimes goes out the window. Exaggeration comes into play, a sense of injustice leads to imprudence, and anger clouds our view of the intentions and virtues of others.
When I’m listening to people feeling these feelings my own sense of justice and fair-play comes to the forefront and I can fall into correcting. My not-often-enough suppressed impulse when I’m on the giving end of advice is to make sure that people aren’t spoken poorly of, and that the person speaking grasps the nuances of the situation.
It makes me very popular at times.
Nothing shuts down feeling-fuelled confidences so fast as correcting people’s emotions. And I can see it happening as I’m speaking, but they need to know the full situation, the maybes of the other person’s motives, the hows and whys of the situation.
And I know this and I’m trying to be a better listener. Trying to just be with them where they are, not to panic at the strength of their heated emotion, not to take their words as forever but seeing them as a for-now impulse. Trying to be gentler when offered the gift of other people’s confession and struggles.
And it’s amazing what can happen when we approach each other with gentleness. When we insert kid gloves into heated situations and a soft place to land in time of struggle.
A young person in my life was having a hard time. Their week had been filled with loss of privilege, unkind peer words, and disappointments all around. As I sat across from them, as their frustration and tears poured out, my impulse was to speak into the situation, explain possible motives, offer stories of how I came through, but the Holy Spirit said ‘No, be still, Listen only’.
So I took a breath and I listened. I listened to the deep behind the words hardships of adolescence, to the young person heart behind the anger, and I remembered. I remembered how it felt to be that age, when people can be hurtful and situations unchangeable. When you have such a sense of your own independence but no power to implement your own worldview.
It’s hard. And at that age, I didn’t want solutions and perspective, I wanted gentleness.
And we’re all the same, not matter what age. We need gentleness to carry us through the tough things in this world. We all need a safe place to land and a listening ear.
So I listened, and we prayed. We prayed for an all-powerful God to move in an impossible situation. We prayed for wisdom. And this young person prayed a psalm without even knowing it. We prayed God to move in the situation and for us to see him moving.
Gentleness is one of the most powerful means of pointing others towards God.
It wasn’t the time for my words, my perspective, that may come later. It was the time for gentleness. For suppression of my own impulses so the needs of another could be plainly seen and felt.
And God did a work in that young person. When I spoke to them later, their perspective was more balanced, their words tempered by time. God had done for them what my words could not, given them a different sense of peace and purpose.
My job was to love them, the Holy Spirit’s to move them.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14
The deeper I dig into the Fruits of the Spirit the more I realize that it’s the love of Christ working within us, the movement of the Spirit that enables us to act more like Christ. To love deeper and better, having more patience which supports the ability to be gentle. Seeking others before myself not out of obligation but out of this greater capacity to love as Jesus loved us.
These aren’t just gifts that we use in service to others but gifts that are given to us, helping us be the people he knows us to be.