Anger is the new pandemic, spreading by contact much like the virus we’ve been fighting for the past year. It is a mutation of our early response to COVID19, which began as fear, sweetened by early steps of neighborliness.
But as weeks of isolation turned into months, anger brewed. Was this all necessary? What about my rights? Who do they think they are to force me to wear/not wear masks?
Throw in a presidential election between the man with the mouth and the man with no brain. Then top with the escalating violence in our cities ignited by the death of George Floyd, at the knee of a policeman.
Soon anger escalated to rage, morphed into violence, then cooled and settled into fuming. My husband, a gentle man and a pastor, found himself hooked, too.
A few months into this routine I realized I was ingesting a diet of daily tidbits of anger, 10 minutes at a time: pundits of indignation, tweets of denunciation, posts of defiance, partisan finger-pointing, texted argument, and spoken cancellation.
–Seeing Wide and Deep
I’ve felt the anger too, though I tend to internalize it, where it bullies me to do better and try harder.
For a while being fueled by anger feels energizing, even righteous. But in the end, it’s exhausting.
BUT the Fruit of the Spirit is … Gentleness
Paul names nine virtues that are planted by the Holy Spirit in every human being who believes in Jesus as God’s beloved Son, sent to rescue fallen humanity. The little word “but” reminds us that every single fruit is a contrast to our natural state, our “flesh”. Which sins of the flesh oppose gentleness? Over half of Paul’s list, a virtual thesaurus of anger:
- Fits of anger
How can mere gentleness be strong enough to overcome such opposition? You and I might think that a single puff of anger would blow gentleness out of the picture.
That’s because we underestimate the strength it takes to be gentle when we’re provoked by harshness. Blogger Andy Mort puts it this way,
Gentleness is strength because it remains constant and clear-minded across all manner of situations.
Mort goes on to describe that strength and then gives seven practical suggestions for growing in that quality. All of his points rang true, but the cumulative effect was dismaying. How can I climb that seven story mountain all by myself?
Anger might be exhausting, but the virtue of gentleness seems unattainable.
How can we learn gentleness from God himself, a Being who seems to many people as both far away and far above us? And truly he is. God revealed himself to the prophet Isaiah with these words,
“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
Who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
I dwell in the high and holy place,
And also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
To revive the spirit of the lowly ,
And to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Surprising, isn’t it, that following the revelation of his greatness, God stoops, not just to peer at humanity in general, but to notice a soul who is bowed with shame and contrition. This is the one he notices. This is the one he lifts up. How can that be?
Author Dane Ortlund responds,
“We are apt to think that he, being so holy, is therefore of a severe and sour disposition against sinners, and not able to bear them. ‘No, says he, ‘I am meek; gentleness is my nature and temper.’”
Jesus came to show us the gentleness of God in real time, boots on the ground–make that sandals–sweat on his forehead, and a welcoming grin on his face.
An Open Invitation
Jesus himself didn’t come to lecture us about gentleness. He didn’t give seminars so we could take notes, or send follow up emails so we could let him know how well we were doing with his tips.
No, he came to be with us, inviting us through the pages of the gospels to join the motley group of disciples who followed him. So we open our Bibles to read and listen and watch and sometimes scratch our heads.
We see Jesus with Nicodemus, not questioning the motives of his midnight visit (John 3:1-15), but engaging his Scripture informed questions with “Truly truly” statements. Jesus was gentle in his authority, honoring Nicodemus while answering him.
The next scene shows us Jesus entering Samaria (John 4:1-30), not avoiding it like the pious Jews of his day. There, hot and weary, the Lowly One asks for water from a woman who approaches the village well with her jar. He knows her story before she tells him, but he didn’t come to pronounce judgement. He came to offer salvation, as free and life giving as the water she came to draw.
To each and all Jesus’ open invitation was “Come.” Hear the Gentle One:
“Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Come limping. Come dirty. Come broken and breaking. Not just the first time you believe, but every time you need his rest.
Following the Gentle and Lowly One
We follow Jesus because we don’t want him to be far away when our need suddenly come on us. But we learn as we follow, too. His Spirit begins to make us gentle.
Gentleness causes us to notice the dignity of the folks we live and work with. God made them. They’re stamped with his image, so we begin to treat them accordingly.
We learn to entreat our brother or sister, reasoning with them “by Christ’s meekness and gentleness (2 Corinthians 10:1),” rather than simply demanding that they change.
When a friend falls into a dangerous sin pattern, we learn from Christ to pursue them, seeking their restoration “in a spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
Following the Gentle and Lowly One leads us into humility instead of harshness (Ephesians 4:2). It teaches us to flee the things that harden us so we can pursue gentleness (1 Timothy 6:11).
Jesus himself, calls us into the yoke with him, to walk at his pace and let him do the heavy pulling. As we learn from the steady one, the gentle and lowly one, our hearts find rest and our words offer peace to a weary and burdened world around us.