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The Spiritual Discipline of Gentleness: learning how to be gentle with ourselves

“Just when I thought I had the hang of things. I’m (re) learning how the only constant in life is change, and no part of me is an exception to this. It’s both freeing and frustrating.”

This quote from writer and healthcare chaplain, Alyssa Peterson-Dewitt, hit home with me this week as I looked back and reflected on the summer season. At the beginning of June, when we finally moved into our new home in Greenwood, IN, I had plans to make the summer all about my writing. 

But as we poured time and money into new carpet, new paint, new furniture, new doctors, new dentists, new friends, and new churches, my creativity came to a swift halt. 

All of my energy was being spent on navigating all of this, new, that the more I tried to pour myself into my writing the more drained I became. I felt stuck and scattered and I hadn’t anticipated that this new adventure would turn a little lonely, causing the waters of clarity and creativity to turn a bit murky. 

Although I’d like to tell you that this drained, stagnant feeling has worn off and that my creativity and passion for writing have brilliantly returned, I can’t truly say that. 

At first, when I realized that this feeling wasn’t going away anytime soon, I panicked. I told myself I had lost my love, my passion, my gift, and I was doomed in this scatter-brained state of mind for the rest of eternity. 

That sounds a bit dramatic, doesn’t it? But that’s honestly how I felt! And each time I approached the page to write, dread overtook me. 

And then, Alyssa’s soothing message hit my inbox, and something in me shifted. 

Be Gentle with Yourself

She too talked about how the waters of change have been hard for her to navigate as a healthcare chaplain in the midst of COVID19. She commented on the fact that because of this, it had been a while since she had written to her email subscribers. As a fellow writer, I resonated with the anxiety those words held.  

But what came after her perceived shortcomings wasn’t some grand solution, a formula for how to get unstuck, or an XYZ kind of answer. Her response was grace:

“So that’s when my favorite spiritual discipline comes into play: gentleness.

This world we live in has the propensity to make folks hard and rough around the edges. Somewhere along the way, we were taught to be jaded.

If there’s anything that is saving me right now as a spiritual care provider in healthcare during a seemingly never-ending pandemic it is gentleness.”

She went on to say that she was choosing in this season to be gentle with herself and gentle with others. 

After reading her email, I decided to dig into the Scriptures to see what the Bible had to say about gentleness: 

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things, there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 NIV

“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” – 1 Timothy 6:11 NIV

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” – Colossians 3:12 NIV

“Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” – Philippians 4:5 NIV

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” – 1 Peter 3:15 NIV

To be honest, I never really paid much attention to the spiritual fruit or discipline of gentleness. Considering that we are told in several Scriptures to practice it, clothe ourselves with it even, one can assume that it’s worth paying attention to. 

But, what does it mean to be gentle

The True Meaning of Gentleness

Gentleness: the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered; the softness of action or effect; lightness.

Gentleness creates a safe harbor of rest for the lost and weary. It gives us a place to land after a long, worrisome day. It offers refreshment and peace because at its very core it is light and welcoming. 

Doesn’t this just emanate the very presence of Jesus? I’m not sure what your take on Jesus is, friend, but when I think of Him, my heart melts. When I encounter Him, I am the safest, most loved, and cared for I could ever be. 

His presence is gentle. Because of this, I am drawn to Him like a moth to a flame! Jesus radiates gentleness and because of His gentle nature, I know that I am loved. It is because His heart and voice are soft that I desire to draw close and let go of all that weighs me down. 

This is Jesus, friend, the Gentle One. 

As His children, we are to mirror this gentle side of Him, and Alyssa and I both agree that it begins with being gentle to ourselves. 

She puts it beautifully by stating, 

“In the Gospels, we read that Jesus urges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. I’ve been contemplating why this is so hard and have come to this conclusion: we don’t love ourselves so we can’t love our neighbors well.”

Learning to be gentle with ourselves is a soul-care practice that I believe has the power to transform the way we live our lives and relate to ourselves and others. It’s how we learn to show love and grace to ourselves so we can learn to love and be merciful to those around us. 

Learning to be gentle with ourselves is a soul-care practice that I believe has the power to transform the way we live our lives and relate to ourselves and others. It’s how we learn to show love and grace to ourselves so we can learn to love and be merciful to those around us. 

What Practicing Gentleness Looks Like for Me

But what does practicing the spiritual discipline of gentleness look like in real life? I believe each of us will have a different answer depending on what season of life we’re in. So, for me, this is what practicing gentleness looks like in my current season of life:

1. Giving Myself Permission to Pause

I was folding laundry in the upstairs hallway when the Lord told me outright that it was time to put the blog on pause. It wasn’t that I heard an audible voice or that the sky split open and there it was, written in the clouds. It was an intuitive feeling; a still, small yet mighty, voice and I just knew it was what I was supposed to do. Sometimes, most times actually, clarity doesn’t hit me that way. But it had been weeks of feeling burnt-out, weary, and uninspired. Weeks of praying and seeking and listening. The stress that was eating away at me was a huge indicator that something had to give. I had too much on my plate to do it all. 

It’s ok to hit pause or dare I say quit, something that was once working but isn’t quite fitting in this current season of life. It doesn’t mean you failed, it doesn’t mean you can’t go back to it later. It just means you need a break or change of pace in order to make room for what God is requiring of you today

2. Paying Attention to What Drains Me & What Gives Me Life

Emily P. Freeman taught me a transformative practice that has shaped and formed the way I make decisions. She calls it a ‘Life Energy List’ and it’s all about paying attention to what drains you and what brings you life! It’s truly that simple. Thanks to her ‘The Next Right Thing Journal’, there’s a spot each month where I make a list of all the things that drained me and all the things that gave me life that month. 

It’s important to pay attention to what causes stress, worry, and anxiety so that moving forward you can prioritize what brings you joy, peace, love, and purpose. 

3. Learning to Receive

I met with my Spiritual Director a few weeks ago and she asked me an incredibly thought-provoking question,

What would it look like to receive yourself and others just as they are?

I took this one step further and asked myself, what would it look like to receive each moment as it is rather than how I want it to be? 

When I am so focused on how I think I should feel, how I expect that person to be, or how I intend a situation to go, everything loses its beauty and purpose. Instead of beholding what is and looking for what God may be trying to teach me at that moment, I focus on trying to mold what isn’t and end up exhausted and frustrated. Learning to receive requires letting go of control and leaning into God as you unclench tight fists and accept what is. 

4. Changing Up My Quiet Time Routine

In the midst of all of this change and transition, not only has my creative life been lacking but so has my spiritual life. I had gotten into the same routine each morning; wake up, make a cup of tea, sit down in my favorite chair, read my Bible, go about my day. Now, I am all for reading your Bible — you absolutely should! But God is a living, breathing being, and when I treat our time together as something to check off my list, I miss out on communing with Him. Just like when you meet up with a friend and you wouldn’t expect to do the same thing every time, you shouldn’t box yourself into one specific routine when it comes to your relationship with God. what worked in past seasons might not work now, and that’s ok. 

I changed my quiet time routine up by starting with five minutes of silence and prayer instead of immediately reaching for my Bible. Beginning my time with God by just talking to Him or sitting in silence with Him prepared my heart to receive Him and His Word in an intimate and relational way. 

5. Accepting That It’s Ok to Not Know What’s Next and Making a Decision Anyway

I tend to get caught up in wanting to make the right decision that I don’t decide at all. Practicing the spiritual discipline of gentleness requires that I let go and let God lead. It requires taking time to think about what I want and then making a choice from there. And then it requires accepting all of the risks that come with that choice. The risk of failure, the risk of success, the risk of losing something to gain something else, the risk of change, etc. I can take a step forward without knowing what I’m doing or where I’m going because I know that God does know. In the end, He will always pick me up and dust me off and send me back on my way. That’s what we have to hold onto, friend, the truth that no matter what, God stands with us and is for us. 

It Starts With You & Me

This journey towards gentleness feels awkward and unnatural as I face the division, brokenness, and chaos of today’s world. Things are constantly changing and transforming and it can be tough to slow down and remember to give myself and others grace. 

But, friend, what if our gentleness is the single most important thing that God uses to draw others to Jesus? To draw the wayward and lost to a place of healing and redemption? 

What if the remedy for division is supposed to be a gentle word, a gentle touch, a gentle presence? 

How surprised our enemies and adversaries would be to expect a lashing out and a roar in reaction to their jabs only to come face to face with the love and gentleness of Jesus. 

And what if learning to practice gentleness towards ourselves is how God gradually restores the broken and busted things within us?

What if the remedy for division is supposed to be a gentle word, a gentle touch, a gentle presence? How surprised our enemies and adversaries would be to expect a lashing out and a roar in reaction to their jabs only to come face to face with the love and gentleness of Jesus. 

It begins within dear one, this gentle undoing of what the world demands and what Jesus invites. 

It begins with you and me, learning to practice the spiritual discipline of gentleness by grasping how to be gentle with ourselves, first. 

How is Jesus calling you to be gentle with yourself in this season of life? Comment down below and let me know 🙂 

Also, if you would like to sign up for Alyssa’s emails and read more of the encouragement and wisdom she has to offer, you can find her here – https://arpdewitt.com/

xo,

Creating resources and written content to encourage you in your personal walk with God.

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