I owe thanks to Becky Heatley, the daughter of the Christian philosopher and apologist Dallas Willard. She compiled the text of many of his speeches, and produced the book The Allure of Gentleness. It was amazing to me to be able to read another Dallas Willard book after he had gone on to be with the Lord. I read it while our family traveled throughout Russia and Ethiopia. By the time we arrived in Egypt, I had finished the short book.
Gentleness. I think I actually achieve it, a bit, in some circumstances. But, in the most familiar places of life, the times with my wife and children, I am too harsh, too quick to judge, and too sharp with my tongue. It’s the last great spiritual horizon. Can I learn to be gentle with the most important people in my life? I am praying I can. I’d love it if I could learn to yield to the presence of the Holy Spirit and be gentle with my immediate family before my kids grow up. What if my kids, when grown, could look back and remember that their dad was gentle with them?
I think if this happened, that Christ-inspired posture of gentleness would bleed over into the other relationships in my life. But it has to happen in that direction: from my home outward to the rest of the places of my life. And for it to happen in my home, it has to begin in my own heart. For me to become gentle in my own heart, I need to receive the forgiveness God has for me and see myself as a forgiven person, washed by grace, and clean. I have to lean on God, live in total dependence on the Holy Spirit.
If I lived as one who has been ‘graced,’ I will be filled with grace and love, and I will be prepared to share grace and love. That’s the wonder with love. The more we look to God, the more we are filled with love. The more we share grace and love, the more we are filled with both.
I came into Sabbatical supposing there were grand mega-lessons to be learned, and upon learning them, I’d see with entirely new eyes. Now, I realize, I do indeed need to see with new eyes, but that seeing won’t come through mega-lessons. It comes through simple lessons, new vision through the two G’s, gentleness and grace. I have to be gentle, and to be gentle, I need to give grace. My first reaction to people, especially my wife, two sons, and daughter, needs to be grace. I will be inclined to give grace if I can train myself to live gently.
Dallas Willard has taught me such life redirection definitely requires spiritual training (a/k/a ‘spiritual discipline’). Just as dieting requires behavior modification (eating less fatty foods, disciplined work-outs), changing one’s behavioral posture also requires discipline. In the case of spiritual discipline, the exercises are done in alignment with prayer and spiritual and emotional dependence on the Holy Spirit. God the Spirit actually works the change in the heart. The spiritual discipline simply positions the disciple to be ready to be transformed by God.
I will begin with daily prayer and daily attentiveness. Tomorrow, I will ask God to heighten my awareness when those moments arise. My wife says something that triggers a negative response from me. My children don’t listen to a simple instruction – for the fifth time! In those moments, I might, by habit, snap, or say something snarky or mean. The moments will come. It’s inevitable. I will begin the day praying into those moments, asking God to prepare me to (1) lean on the Spirit, (2) speak and move gently, and (3) give grace.
In addition to prayerful attentiveness, a second discipline will be to ask God to help me focus my gentle intentions at those times of day when I am most fatigued. When I am tired, I am least likely to be gentle. I will ask God for extra grace in those moments.
A third discipline (after prayerfully beginning and the prayer for grace in times of low-energy) is the active seeking of opportunities for gentleness. In interactions with my family, I will look for times to do something more gently than I would have a week ago, or a month ago. I am attempting to retrain my emotional response muscles. I pray these disciplines of praying, receiving grace, and seeking new response will position me to be a gentle grace giver. I am certain that as I grow in the two G’s, gentleness and grace, I will see more of God in the most normal places of my life.