Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit that seems somewhat straightforward, yet we don’t talk about it very often. The technical definition of gentleness is the quality of being kind, tender, mild-mannered, softness of action or effect.
The original word in the Bible that is translated as gentleness in English has a deeper meaning though. It is more closely correlated to power in restraint, particularly in regards to God’s power. It is understanding the power we have through God, but choosing to be restrained and exercise that knowledge and power without undue harshness.
At times Christians will allude to gentleness when they discuss the need to speak the truth in love. Teaching the lost they are lost is often best received when we approach them with love and kindness along with God’s truths.
So how can we begin to teach our kids about gentleness when it is so much deeper than the secular definition implies? Because the original word includes the normal definition of gentleness with an added dimension, you can start at the beginning.
- Restraining strength. If you have a toddler and a new baby, kitten or puppy in the house, you understand this dynamic very well. Teach your kids their words and actions have power…power to encourage, help or destroy. They must make wise choices about how much strength and power they need to use in a given situation. Often the best idea for young people, because of their lack of life experience, is to start slow. This is more fun when practiced with animals. How gently should they touch a baby animal versus an adult? Should they be firmer with an animal with a tough hide than an animal with very sensitive skin? As they experiment, talk about what happens. Older children can begin drawing comparisons to how they interact with people.
- Gentle or harsh. Find examples in film, children’s books or other places of people being gentle or harsh. Can your children correctly identify the people who are being gentle and those who are being harsh? Older children may be able to find ways those being harsh could have accomplished their goals in a more gentle fashion.
- Gentle or weak? Young people can become confused by the biblical concept of gentleness, especially if their environment seems to require a tough exterior to survive. Find examples in the Bible when someone chose to be gentle rather than harsh, but in so doing showed their strength more than if they had acted differently. The life of Jesus is filled with these examples. Even when Jesus might have appeared to be harsh with the Pharisees, he was being gentle…he had the ability to have them struck dead on the spot, but gave them opportunities to change and grow spiritually instead by using milder actions to make them aware of their sins. Have them find examples in their own environment of ways they can show their strength better with their gentleness than being harshly “strong”.
- Don’t break them. Have your children handle fragile things very gently. When demonstrating how to be gentle, drop something fragile and let it break (an egg works well if you can tolerate the mess). Somewhat frantically ask your kids to help you “fix” the thing you broke. Even if it is something you can glue back together, point out the cracks and how it will never be as strong or as perfect as it once was. Point out that when we are harsh with others our words and actions can have the same impact on them. We can break people and leave them more fragile if we aren’t careful with them. Talk about ways we break others and ways we can accomplish important goals without destroying others in the process.
- Delivering “bad” news. Often we think of being gentle in a more biblical way when we have to tell people something they don’t want to hear – some sort of bad news. Show your kids a film clip or passage in a book when someone had to deliver bad news. We’re they gentle or blunt? Have them notice that although the person is still saddened by the news, they feel more loved and/or supported when someone told them gently and provided comfort or help after gently delivering the news. Role play giving the types of bad news they may have to deliver to their friends. How can they give the news gently? More importantly, how can they show love and give support after the bad news is given to someone?
Teaching your kids how to be gentle in biblical ways can improve their ability to serve others well and share their faith effectively. It’s worth taking the time and effort to discuss gentleness and help them practice it.