‘Are You Bein’ Gentle?’

It came from somewhere in the yard — the wood pile, perhaps, or one of the two-by-fours still lurking after months of home improvement projects. At some point during the afternoon, Isaiah had become aware of a splinter lodged in the soft skin of his finger, and it was the headline of the day after that, the CNN ticker that scrolled across the family’s consciousness as often as he looked at his wounded little paw. Now he was sitting on the bathroom counter, my patient, my boy, hand raised between us for examination.

I proceeded with tweezers, and he recoiled at the touch of cold metal. A kiss and a few reassuring words later, I had the tweezers in position to extract a minuscule shaving of wood. That’s when he spoke up, warm and sincere, already zipped into his pajamas for the night.

Are you bein’ gentle with me?

I glanced up and his eyes were not on his hand, as I would have expected, but on me. I smiled, redoubling my focus and relieving him of his tiny burden, no further pain, no tears.

As he slid down off the counter, I thought about what he’d said, and all at once it occurred to me that he wasn’t just making conversation. He was asking for me to reinforce his trust. He needed fortitude for the procedure, and he was asking me to provide it. My response, of course, was absolute gentleness.

As children of God, there are times when we need to know exactly this.

Father, are you being gentle?

Don’t be so proud that you cannot look to Him and plead for tenderness. He promises that He will provide it when we have the need.

Tucked among bleak prophecies of fire and judgment in the book of Isaiah are a handful of the most tender passages in the whole Bible. “Comfort, yes, comfort my people!” the prophet is commanded. Two chapters later, it is prophesied of Christ that “a bruised reed He will not break,” which I imagine was a somewhat opaque prediction until Jesus fulfilled it.

The twelfth chapter of Matthew paints the scene: Shortly after issuing His famous call summoning “all who labor and are heavy laden,” Jesus was confronted by the Pharisees because His disciples were picking and eating grain on a Saturday. After a showdown over the bloated Sabbath bylaws, Jesus left the synagogue and began to heal anyone who followed.

Matthew writes that “this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah,” but I sense that it was also because Jesus simply loved to heal. It was apparently still the Sabbath, and He went on racking up what the Pharisees considered Sabbath violations, so He carefully instructed the healed to keep it quiet. He was not quarreling with the Pharisees, not healing to make a point. He was doing what He loved, because for all of His hard sayings, Jesus was a gentle man.

Throughout the New Testament, gentleness connotes teachability and submission to God’s will. It is a spiritual quality with a physical product. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul wrote that gentleness is evidence that one is being led by the Holy Spirit. There will never be a law against gentleness, and for a parent, it’s usually gratifying to be gentle. It feels right.

All well and good, until the other shoe drops.

One afternoon, months after extracting Isaiah’s sliver, gentleness came far less naturally when I found a grid of lines carved into my leather iPad case. He had been trying to write his name on it with the claws of a hammer, he explained.

Elsewhere in the house was ample evidence of his mischief. (Breathtaking, isn’t it, how quickly a little boy with a red crayon can redecorate?) All of a sudden, there was irony in the fact that gentleness and self-control appear back-to-back as fruit of the Spirit, since it is so hard to be gentle when the child lacks self-control.

But that is when it is most needed. Sin — our own mischief — is the reason we need gentleness from our Father, and He does not disappoint.

boy mischief

Isaiah turned three this fall, so I am new at this, and only just beginning to understand that my children will need me to be especially gentle when they know they have sinned. I would imagine that it will become more and more important as their lives press on toward adulthood.

Matthew Henry put it this way: “Jesus Christ is very tender toward those that have true grace, though they are but weak in it, and accepts the willingness of the spirit, pardoning and passing by the weakness of the flesh.”

In other words, gentleness is the natural reaction when a child is injured, but as a response to sin, it becomes a spiritual discipline. Maybe someday I will get it right, responding with the same tender mercy that characterized my Savior.

In the meantime, I leave you with a dad’s version of the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive me, your son, as I forgive my son who trespasses against me.”

mischief-3

“Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
‘Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.
I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.'”
{Matthew 12:15-21}
“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that her warfare is ended,
that her iniquity is pardoned,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”
{Isaiah 40:1-2}