I think it was Mark Galli who wrote:
The prophets of the Old Testament were concerned about one thing… and it was not people’s feelings.
I am encouraged by that insight. Despite their directness and sometimes crassness, there can be no doubt they were called by God, and used by God for the advancement of God’s purpose.
Not only am I encouraged by this, I am comforted. For among my many weaknesses, one of the most apparent is an often seemingly too strong personality. It is not intentional. But more than a few people later told me that for some reason they at first wondered if I was approachable; that they initially felt intimidated. (Obviously they got over it, else they would never have told me something like that!) This is not the perception of everyone, probably not even most. But over the years I have heard this refrain enough to take note. It is not an image I want to project.
I pray that the fruit of gentleness would continually grow in me – and that it would somehow be more evident. While many who know me have encouraged me by commenting on my kindness, I want that kindness to be accompanied by gentleness. I envy those folks who ooze gentleness and approachability.
I have wondered, though, about some who seem to be gifted with gentleness. Some whom I have encountered are indeed gentle in their demeanor – far more than I. Yet beneath their surface something is missing. Deep down they may be self-absorbed and uncaring – at least not caring enough to put themselves out much.
What I have also wondered is about the difference between being gentle and being timid. Some appear to be gentle when in fact they are merely timid.
Here is what I suspect may be the difference:
- Gentleness is motivated by love for another. It is sacrificial.
- Timidity is generated by a love for self. It is a fear of being rejected. It is self-preservation.
I am not sure I can always tell the difference, but I think the difference is important. The appearance of gentleness, when it is really a mask for timidity, is not a spiritual fruit. Given that understanding, I think I prefer being kind yet sometimes misunderstood, to being insecure yet credited as something else. After all, the Lord searches the heart.
Still, I know that this distinction is no substitute for growing in the fruit of gentleness. I am a work in progress. I cling to the promise that “He who began a good work in you will see it through the end.” (Philippians 1.6) This gives me hope that one day more people will perceive me to be gentle. In the mean time, perhaps I can take some solace from C.S. Lewis’ metaphorical portrayal of our gentle King in the form of Aslan:
Lucy: A lion?! I think I should be afraid to meet a lion. Is he safe?
Mr Tumnus: Safe! Heavens no! But he is good.