“I feel like seventy-five percent of my relationships are stressful right now,” I admitted to Will as I watched his skilled fingers smooth wood filler into the nail holes of the cabinet he was making for me.
While Will’s hands shaped the cabinet-wood, he listened to me in his gentle and wise way. He didn’t try to fix anything, but offered his calming presence.
In some areas, I told him, there is nothing inherently bad or wrong about the relationship–such as at work. Working at the hospital is very stressful for me right now because of the mask-wearing policy. Since my ability to lipread is taken away, I feel isolated and unhandy. But nobody at work has been unkind to me; in fact, they’ve gone above and beyond their duty to include me when they can.
But other things surprise me with their vitriol. On social media, for instance, people have gone from mostly sharing bits of the joys and sorrows of daily life to a knock-over blast of personal and political opinions.
I want to give people space to vent and process what they are going through–this coronavirus pandemic is a tough time for all of us. Add to that the ordinary stresses of work, family, church, parenting, and everything else, and many of us are legitimately feeling overwhelm. God’s people ought to be able to give grace and listen to each other during stressful times.
But when hot subjects come up over and over–I’m thinking particularly of politics and parenting–it seems that the temptation is great to become unbending and unteachable. Common courtesy and grace is too often replaced by pride and control.
These days I’m taken off-guard by what is important to people. The value systems that I thought existed in certain places don’t seem to exist at all.
I’m reminded of the verse about wisdom in James. (I wrote about this verse a year ago, and so much of it still applies!)
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
James 3:17 (ESV) emphasis mine
Philippians 4 has a verse with a similar emphasis:
Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.
Philippians 4:5a (ESV)
And there it is: God’s wisdom is gentle and reasonable.
This criteria helps me filter what I hear from others, and it helps me understand what is and is not wisdom in myself.
If I sense a hard, proud, self-serving, grace-less edge to what people are sharing, I know it’s not God’s wisdom. Even if their ideas work perfectly for them, the result does not justify the means. And even if someone can explain exactly why the world should be run in a certain way, without humility their words lack wisdom.
If I notice a compulsion in myself to make everyone change their ways and think exactly the way I do, I know I am not living in God’s wisdom. If I’m unwilling to be taught and to listen to a viewpoint different from mine, I can sound ever so intelligent and wonderful and still be completely devoid of wisdom.
God’s wisdom is gentle and reasonable.
It really is that simple.
Being forthright while still being gentle and reasonable is possible. But too many of us prefer the forthright part and want to skip over gentleness, because anybody can be blunt but gentleness is something we can’t manufacture. Gentleness grows in us through suffering.
Gentleness is aware of the emotional load that is put on people. Maybe right now isn’t a good time to spew off our opinions on the best way to parent. Maybe we should save the political discussion for another time. When we are stressed, what normally isn’t overwhelming can become downright intolerable.
Just as gentleness is born in suffering, being reasonable is a skill that is birthed in humility. Being reasonable means being willing to change our minds when presented with truth. The reasonable side of wisdom knows we are not defined by never being wrong, and looks to the greater good.
As my husband modeled for me by listening to me in his shop, I want to kindly listen to others. Instead of being caught up in the drama of current relationships, I want to look to Jesus as my calm in the storm. I don’t have to figure everything out, and I don’t have to fix people.
I want to learn the gentleness of wisdom.