A few days ago I was letting my baby girl play with my sunglasses. Knowing how easy it is to break plastic sunglasses and knowing that she's still a baby and might not know how careful she needed to be, I used one of our buzzwords on her: "Gentle, Hannah! Gentle!"
She patted my sunglasses like a puppy. :)
Sometimes I wonder if we grownups understand the proper application of gentleness any better than she did! Yesterday in Sunday School we were talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and specifically gentleness, which is also called meekness (depends on which translation you're reading). The gist of the lesson was that despite the fact that they rhyme, "meekness" and "weakness" aren't the same thing. Meekness/gentleness actually means that you refuse to manipulate someone, but you act within the will of God to someone else's advantage. Jesus always acted in meekness, even when he was at what some might consider His most violent, bodily driving moneychangers out of the temple; He was not acting in his own self-interest, but in God the Father's interest. And of course, the ultimate example of meekness is that the creator of the World and everything in it became part of His own creation in order to save it through His own death. That was a gentle act, but it took great power to accomplish!
And to me, that's the crux of what gentleness is. I think about parenting my kids. Right now they are both little, and I can pretty easily overpower either of them physically. I'm big and loud to them, and if I yell at them, I can reduce either of them to tears if I want. That would be abusive, and would be acting in my own interest, not theirs. Gentleness is when Mikey wants to talk to me and I want to read, but I put down my book and listen to him tell me about the new video game he played. Or when I'm playing blocks with Hannah, and I stack up a tower but she knocks them down and I let her. It's also when you're telling someone about Jesus and they put up some resistance, so you back down and give them time to process before broaching the subject again. Meekness is when you have the power to control someone, but you choose not to.
On the way home from church I was telling Mikey about that lesson, and he said, "That was just like the show we were watching yesterday!" And he was right... that same thought had come to me during class! The show we were watching (actually I was watching it and he was catching little bits of it while he was doing something else) was an episode of Legend of the Seeker which requires a few sentences of back story before I can explain why it's an example of meekness. The show is based on a series of fantasy books called The Sword of Truth. In the story, a young man named Richard Cypher is known as The Seeker; his destiny is to free the world from the dominance of an evil despot named Darken Rahl. Richard is traveling with a wizard named Zedd and a beautiful woman named Kahlan Amnell who happens to be what is known as a "confessor." Confessors have a magic power: they can touch a person and make that person fall in love with them, to the point where the confessed person will do anything the confessor asks or needs, to the point of giving their life for her.
In the episode, Kahlan decides that because of a prophecy that she would "betray" Richard, she must leave his party (she is sworn to protect him at all costs) and find another confessor to go with him. She goes to a village which is under the protection of a friend of hers who is also a confessor; Kahlan asks her friend to join Richard and allow Kahlan to take over protecting the village. It turns out that the friend has brought peace to the village by confessing every single person who lives there and having them drive out Darken Rahl's soldiers. Kahlan is aghast; she only uses her powers in battle because she believes it is wrong to force people to do your will, even if it is for their own good. Mikey recognized that as an example of meekness, and he was very right!
The episode goes on to contrast Kahlan's gentle touch with the touch of another woman, Denna, who is what is known as a "mord sith." The mord sith force people to be devoted to them by torturing the people with magic and playing mind games with them; it's sort of a Stockholm syndrome kind of thing. Denna nearly breaks Richard, but then Kahlan shows up to rescue him. She has a chance to confess him, which would in theory make it impossible for Denna to break him, be she (in meekness) refuses to do so, and ultimately Richard finds it within himself to resist Denna's magic and kill her. The mord sith control people by demanding their love and loyalty by magical force; the confessors control people by inspiring their love and loyalty by gentle magic. The moral of the episode is that stealing someone's love, whether by gentleness or by force, is wrong.
Richard is able to resist Denna because Kahlan has earned his love, not because she has put a spell on him. When Kahlan's confessor friend, who is about to direct her village to attack the temple where Richard is being held and save him, is herself killed, the spell is broken on everyone in her village except one young man, who throughout the episode has shown that he truly loves her. The spell does not break on him because it wasn't a spell. As he cradles her dead body in his arms, his fellow villagers run away. The ones she controlled by force flee, but the one she controlled with love still loves and stays with her.
My Sunday school teacher mentioned some time he spent as a young man street witnessing, and how when they went out and just told people about Jesus in an effort to convert them, their success was limited, but organizations around town that meet the needs of the people... feed them, clothe them, help them find real jobs, etc... those organizations have lasting results. If we as Christians can learn to share the Gospel with meekness, with a heart of giving ourselves for the sake of others instead of trying to manipulate others into making a confession of faith, we can obtain results for God's Kingdom that we never imagined possible.