Gentleness With Backbone

I snuggled under the blankets with a contented little-girl sigh. Grandma had just finished gently rubbing our backs and “reading the Scriptures,” as she always said. Her mellow alto voice washed over my little sister and me as she sang the song I would sing to my own children and remember throughout the next five decades:

Sisters at Grandma’s house.

Little children, little children, who love their Redeemer,

Are the jewels, precious jewels, His loved and His own;

Like the stars of the morning, His bright crown adorning,

They shall shine in their beauty—Bright gems for His crown.

(William O. Cushing, 1823-1902)

My Italian grandmother, born in 1904, lived nearly a century. She raised two sons, taught Bible classes to children, housed Jewish seniors who came to town during the summers, and served in her church. My German grandfather painted souvenirs for the shops in Niagara Falls. A gentle couple. Quiet. Hard-working. To me, their home represented a safe and happy haven. One where spaghetti dinners, picnics, and overnights all fed a feeling of belonging to two young girls growing up in the 1960s and 70s.

Perhaps, we associate gentleness with a certain personality type or even with the feminine gender. Yet, the Bible treats gentleness as a character quality, a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), a Christian virtue to be pursued (1 Timothy 6:11). It’s associated with humility, a mild manner, courtesy, and kindness.

And surprisingly, there’s backbone to this attribute of gentleness. Paul, the apostle, instructed a young pastor named Timothy, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV). He also reminded the Christians in Ephesus to exhibit “humility and gentleness with patience, bearing with one another in love, . . .” (Ephesians 4:2-3 ESV). Peter encouraged the scattered believers of the first century, to defend their faith “with gentleness and respect, . . .” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Correcting opponents, patiently bearing with others, and defending one’s beliefs call for fortitude, courage, and grit, yet the New Testament writers paired these disciplines with godly gentleness born through a strong connection with God and His Word.

Jesus demonstrated both gentleness and bold assertiveness. Wasn’t he the tender shepherd as well as the rabbi who exposed the hypocrisy of the religious leaders? The story-telling teacher as well as the Son of God who drove out the thieves from His Father’s house? The friend who wept over the death of Lazarus and the powerful deity who resurrected him?

Gentleness . . . perhaps there’s more to it than what we may have thought.

1994: Grandma’s 90th Birthday

I want to be more like my gentle grandma, the little lady with a soothing voice, a generous hand, and a kind heart. Even more so, I pray our lives will be saturated with the gentleness of Jesus Himself, the kind with backbone—no matter where our life stories lead us.

Sarah Lynn Phillips

Sarah Lynn Phillips shares the inspiring story of her family’s near-fatal car crash in her award-winning book, Penned Without Ink: Trusting God to Write Your Story. For individual or group study, she has also written a companion Leader’s Guide with reproducible study sheets. Her articles, devotions, and poems have appeared in numerous online and print publications. Through her writing and speaking, Sarah offers a vision of hope in the hard times. She has three adult daughters and three delightful grandsons. Reading, quilting, and tending her garden are among Sarah’s hobbies.

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