The gentleness of Jesus is everywhere. Isaiah affirms, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out.” Paul appeals, “by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. . . ” And Jesus himself invites, “Learn from me, for I am gentle. . .” Jesus gently welcomes the children whom his followers try to push away. Gently questions his way through the defenses of the woman at the well. Gently gives life to a widow’s dead son, calls out deeper healing in a woman who had touched his clothes to receive physical healing, and restores the worth of a woman whom others wanted to stone. His entire upside-down kingdom speaks gentle hope to the vulnerable. “Blessed are the poor in spirit. . . Blessed are those who mourn. . . Blessed are the meek. . .”
Jesus’ gentleness reflects the heart of his Father. “The LORD is faithful in all his words and gracious in all his deeds. The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.” “He tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”
For months, years maybe, it has topped the list of what I love about Jesus, my delight in it growing parallel to my increasing awareness of my weakness. Only in the past few weeks have I begun to understand why his gentleness matters so much, what it whispers that touches so deeply.
“Gentleness is usually enkindled by something that is precious but vulnerable. Everything that appears fragile and vulnerable and at the same time precious in some way seems to evoke gentleness.” (Van Kaam, “Spirituality and the Gentle Life,” p 16)
Gentleness whispers the truth that sets us free: not only “you are precious” (though that word alone is the richest of gifts), but also “your fragility does not decrease your value.” It reaches into the deep places where fears hide: fears that, stripped of what I do, who I am is insignificant; fears that my weaknesses undermine my value and must be fixed or covered or compensated for. That I must be perfect to be precious. His gentleness whispers that, like a baby, a teacup, the first flower of spring bravely pushing up through last year’s leaves, our fragility is inseparable from our preciousness. We’re not meant to be God, independent and able. We are his sheep. His children.
“I know your fragility and I love you in it. I love to love you in it.”
Gentleness speaks love, but a special kind of love. A love that doesn’t equate weakness with defect. Gentleness embraces the whole, declares us precious in our vulnerability, not in spite of it.
“Your vulnerability touches me deeply. Your openness to me in your need delights me.”
His gentleness means I don’t have to get it perfect every time. When I stop holding myself away stiffly and turn back toward the love offered, His gentleness softens me and frees me and replaces the anxiety in me with the openness of response to his love. It creates a space in which it’s okay to be small and weak and let God be God. A place safe enough – enfolded in love – to let myself see my fragility and know that it’s okay. It’s all part of the me that is deeply cherished.
And I wonder if she’s right: “Perhaps humility is not only about seeing ourselves as God sees us, but also about accepting ourselves as God accepts us.” (Sheila Pritchard)
(Paragraph 1): Isaiah 42:3; 2 Corinthians 10:1; Matt 11:28-30; Luke 18:15-17; John 4; Luke 7:11-15; Luke 8:40-56; John 8:3-11; Matthew 5:3-12
(Paragraph 2): Ps 145:13b-14; Isaiah 40:11