“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”
When Alex and I were going through premarital counselling, our facilitators—and great friends—were talking with us about the occasional virtue of going to bed angry. Contrary to popular and biblical wisdom, and knowing us as they did, we quickly realized as we dated that we operated on very different body clocks. Once I’ve been awake for half an hour, regardless of the time of day, I am irritatingly chipper in the morning, even before coffee, but hopeless after 9 a.m. Alex’s brain is not fully working until about 11 a.m., but he is at his most articulate and brilliant sometime around midnight. We both kept trying to have important conversations at times of day unpalatable to one of us, with very little success. So, just occasionally, going to bed angry with the situation unresolved has saved us many unpleasant conversations.
The problem in these moments is not that we say things we don’t mean, but rather we say the things we think but never intended to say aloud. It’s a lack of gentleness, a lack of humility that gets us to this place.
It’s one thing to treat those we love the most with gentleness–and it’s no short order–but the measure of a person is often found in how they treat a person weaker than themselves. How gentle are they with the wait staff? How gentle are they with the valet? How do they speak to children? So much is given away when we are gruff, unfeeling or downright unkind to those we perceive with superiority, even if subconsciously.
Gentleness does not mean being railroaded; it does not equate with becoming a doormat. Gentleness is not an absence of strength, but the fortitude to show kindness, mercy, love and patience, even in the midst of trying situations. Gentleness is most telling when it is not reciprocated, when in the most frustrating situations, and with the most irritating people!
Gentleness only comes naturally to me in a limited number of situations and it is not a quality I find easy to cultivate joyfully. This Lent, I pray I may learn to celebrate it, to notice it in others and for the Spirit to be at work in me to transform me.
An excerpt from the Universal Prayer, attributed to Pope Clement XI:
Let me love you, my Lord and my God,
And see myself as I really am:
A pilgrim in this world,
A Christian called to respect and love
All whose lives I touch,
Those under my authority,
My friends and my enemies.
Help me to conquer anger with gentleness,
Greed by generosity,
Apathy by fervor.
Help me to forget myself
And reach out toward others.
Make me prudent in planning,
Courageous in taking risks.
Make me patient in suffering, unassuming in prosperity.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.