I want to talk about a forgotten virtue: gentleness.
It seems to come way down the bill, far below the big hitters like faith, hope, love and joy.
And yet, it comes up time and time again in the Bible.
It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit, part of the DNA of God.
It’s one of the qualities that St Paul recommends as part of our everyday wardrobe, a normal part of how we dress to face the world.
But what exactly is gentleness? I often hear the word ’gentle’ spoken to children, usually when they’re playing with a pet or a baby brother or sister.
‘Be gentle!’, says the anxious parent, worried that the cat’s tail is going to get pulled, or baby squeezed too tight. But gentleness is for adults, too.
Developing this habit of gentleness is part of our growth into maturity.
It isn’t about being a wuss, or a wimp. It isn’t about being meek and mild and never saying boo to a goose.
Gentleness is founded on strength. Gentleness is choosing to use our strength wisely.
It’s about approaching people with care and consideration, trying to see where they’re coming from, and understanding the challenges they face.
Gentleness comes at things gradually. It is not sudden or severe.
Jesus modelled gentleness by listening to people, meeting them where they were, acknowledging their struggles and confusion.
He spoke truth to them, but he spoke it tenderly. He assured people they were not alone and gave them hope that their situations, however desperate, could be transformed.
Our world seems to me to lack gentleness. Violence is rife across the globe.
We are daily buffeted and bruised by intrusive phone calls, bad news stories, harsh chemicals, relentless demands and flickering fluorescent lights.
For entertainment, we watch people embarrass themselves in public, get thrust into the limelight, hired and fired and then voted out unceremoniously.
We are quick to dismiss the weakest link and then post our critical comments online.
All that reality TV, all those Twitter feuds, are in danger of eroding our sensitivity to other human beings.
If we are to cultivate this habit of gentleness, we need to start with ourselves.
Some of us need to revise and reduce the expectations we put on ourselves every day.
Take that to-do list. Rip it in half and in half again. Be kind to yourself – recognise your limits and set realistic goals. Give yourself a break.
We spend so much energy beating ourselves up and putting ourselves down that we have nothing left to give.
How might today turn out differently if you decide to handle yourself and others with extra care and compassion?
Live strong. Be gentle.