The Case for Gentleness

When I hear the word gentle or gentleness, the first thing that comes to mind are the words we used to encourage our eight-year-old son holding his newborn sister for the first time. “Be gentle.” Or the words we encourage a child petting a dog — “Be gentle.”

The problem with gentleness is that it sounds too much like meekness, and neither have been historically considered manly traits. Are gentleness and masculinity really incompatible?

Survey the landscape of social media. Gentleness, where art thou? Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, social commentators revel in being able to belch their sarcastic, mocking, and acidic humor. The value of gentleness in conversation or dialogue has so declined that Facebook commenters prefer to be thought cute and clever rather than insightful and respectful. The Twitter world is rich in vitriol and poor in gentleness.

So what is gentleness?

Gentleness is defined as the quality of being kind, tender, or mild-mannered, free from harshness, sternness, or violence. At the risk of sounding sexist, gentleness is often viewed as more of a feminine trait. As one author put it, “A woman’s strength is most potent when robed in gentleness.” Is there a more powerful visual image of gentleness in action than a mother caring for her young child’s “ouchie”?

For men, is gentleness a quality we should cultivate?

Years ago, as a young Christian, I learned the Bible had much to say about the role of gentleness in our lives.

One of the most quoted is found in Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Hearing that admonition signaled my younger self to guard my tongue and remember the power of a gentle response. 

Galatians 6:1 implores us to restore those overtaken in any trespass in a “spirit of gentleness.”

1 Timothy 6:11 urges us to fight the good fight of faith by pursuing gentleness, among other righteous behaviors.

1 Peter 3:15 challenges us to always be prepared to defend our faith but do so with “gentleness and reverence.”

Yet, it was my wife who communicated the importance of gentleness in the marital relationship.

My marital lesson started when I read The Book of Romance by Tommy Nelson —a detailed study about one of the most unusual books of the Bible, The Song of Solomon. Knowing the theme of The Song of Solomon (let’s just say it is rated “M” for Mature audiences only), I fully expected a discussion about love, sex, and intimacy. However, I was still surprised at the author’s candid insights about marital intimacy.

Reading Chapter Eight struck me like a ball-peen hammer upside the head. 

I read and re-read the author’s words. I underlined them in red ink. That’s when the ball-peen hammer struck. KAPOW! What was it that caught my attention?  Nelson wrote, “Romance is also about tenderness. Solomon began with tender and romantic words in communicating his love to his wife, and men, that is always the place to begin with your wives. They want to know how you feel in your heart, not how you respond to the feel of them in your hand. The way a woman spells love over time is tenderness…Show me a woman who feels that her husband deals with her tenderly — with kindness, good manners, generosity, genuine affection, and understanding — and I’ll show you a happily married woman, regardless of external circumstances that may come against their union or family. This woman will have no desire to seek tenderness from someone outside the marriage.”

I paused to take a breath, allowing these words to recalibrate my manly perceptions. I had to admit that communicating feelings had never been one of my strongest suits. Had I failed as a husband? Was I a romantic bust? Who better to ask than my wife? And so, I boldly asked my helpmate if this author’s take on biblical romance was true. 

Her answer changed me.

She shared a quote by St. Jerome. “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” She reminded me that gentleness is one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit. Is there anything or anyone more powerful than the Holy Spirit? Is this not the ultimate example of strength under control? And yet, one evidence of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life is the fruit of gentleness. Gentleness is the most underappreciated quality in a man because gentleness is strength under control.

I was getting a lesson on romance, so I kept my mouth shut and listened.

She kept talking. She shared how she admired gentleness as a strong masculine trait. She confessed to how my gentle touch and tender words cultivated our romance, how such actions provided emotional nourishment, and, this is the fun part, how it turned her on. In other words, she understood I was the stronger physical vessel, but when I displayed a gentle manner in word and touch, it flooded her spirit with deep joy, contentment — and desire. She felt loved rather than an object of lust. My gentle manner, along with words of affirmation rather than criticism, refreshed and nourished her spirit. 

Should gentleness be a desired masculine trait? Should it be a hallmark in marital relationships? 

I know so.  

After our conversation, my wife printed out St. Jerome’s quote, “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”  

And taped it to our bathroom mirror.

A daily reminder was ok with me.  Besides, ball-peen hammers hurt too much.

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