One of my favorite stories as a child was “The North Wind and the Sun” from Aesop’s Fables. The story goes that the north wind and the sun were debating between themselves about who was stronger. As they argued “with much heat and bluster,” they see a man walking across a field. They decide whoever is able to strip the man of his coat is stronger. The north wind goes first. His large gusts of wind almost knock the man over, but all his cold air accomplishes is to make the man grip his coat harder. Then it’s the sun’s turn. He steps forth from behind the clouds and radiates his warmth. The man is so comforted and relaxed by the sun’s rays that he takes off his coat and lies down under a tree. The lesson of the story is that gentleness is stronger than force.
In some ways, we all need to take the story of the north wind and the sun to heart. We live and breathe in a world that tells us that it’s okay to use force. We’re often told that the way forward for change in this world is to strong arm people. Both in person and on social media, I see folks spewing hate at each other for having different opinions on politics, race, gender, family, and religion, as if that’s going to get someone to change their mind and see a different perspective. I see metaphorical walls erected between Black, Brown, and White Christians because so many of them think they’re right and they have no problem alienating someone else for their “wrong” perspective. Our sad human inclination is to use violence in our words, to knock people over with shame, in the belief that that will convince them to change.
But, if I can be completely honest, I’m tired of people thinking the path to change (whether racial change or otherwise) is through force. When was the last time you were humiliated and thought, “Yes, what that person is saying to me is right. I need to change”? When was the last time you were metaphorically knocked over and then changed what you were doing? Our hearts and our minds don’t usually work that way.
As my friend and fellow (in)courage contributor Lucretia Berry once said, “Shame is not a teacher.” In fact, shame is like the north wind in the story from Aesop’s Fables. When we make people feel small and verbally hurt them, it only makes people want to retreat and to stop trying to work toward change. They pull their coats tighter to their chests, resisting our efforts. That’s not the effect we want to have on people. Rather, what people need, what we all need, are warm rays of love and kindness and a gentle invitation to a better way.
When I see our world today, I see a world in need of gentleness. Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). It’s also a characteristic that’s mentioned throughout the whole Bible. For example, Colossians 4:5-6 writes, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” And Proverbs 16:24 states, “Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.”
This verse from Proverbs is a verse that we recite often in our home. We want our kids to know the power of their words and how gentle words will always be more inviting and more loving than a harsh rebuke. Gentle language, after all, is the model of Jesus. I think about how many times He walks up to strangers and calls them “brother” or “sister.” Jesus goes to the people on the margins of society and has meals in their homes. He befriends people, treating them like family, and lovingly invites them with His words into a better way — His way.
One of Jesus’ gentle approaches to people was asking questions. Instead of rebuking the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, Jesus asks her a series of questions to help her reflect on her life and come to the conclusion that she needs him. When the religious authorities of the day came to fight with Jesus, He didn’t shout a three-point argument back at them. Jesus was calm, gentle, and asked simple questions to redirect the conversation and get to the heart of what really mattered.
Asking questions, instead of just trying to teach and correct people, is one way we can express gentleness like Jesus. Questions are a helpful way to get people to reflect on their words and the impact of their views. Perhaps in a moment that we really disagree with someone, we can pause, pray, and then respond with something like, “Oh wow, that’s interesting. Tell me more about that” or “I’d like to better understand how you arrived at that conclusion. Can you share more?” There is an art to asking questions so that the other person doesn’t feel attacked or insulted as well as giving space to truly listen to their perspective as well.
Affirming a person first before asking a question goes a long way too. We need to affirm the good in someone, even if it’s the good-gone-wrong, and paint a vision for them of the best they can be. Let’s challenge ourselves to be gentle like Jesus and to radiate His warm, loving rays. When a heated debate arises, let’s watch our facial expressions, the way we hold our bodies, and the words and tone we use. May we treat the people we engage with with love, dignity, and gentleness. If we want to create change in this world, let’s pursue that change gently. Gentleness is what will empower people to pursue healthy, collaborative change for the future.Leave a Comment
Elizabeth (Betsy) Hall says
This is most excellent advice—I truly pray that when others read it, they will take it to heart if needed. I have been in situations where yelling and verbal abuse have been the norm. How did that effect me? I became a door mat. I was beaten down verbally so low that I felt I was nothing. I was a Christian, but Jesus speaks soft and gently. The loudness almost drowned Him out.
I had to become strong in Christ again to become my own person and deal with the situation.
Michelle Reyes says
Hi Betsy, thanks for your willingness to share some of your story. I’m sorry for what you went through. And I completely agree — yelling at people only shuts them down. “Jesus speaks soft and gently.” May we be more and more like Jesus.
Love this beautifully written reminder!
Michelle Reyes says
Thanks, Jas! I’m reminding myself of this today too!
Robin Dance says
I so enjoyed reading this beautiful piece this morning, and in your encouragement toward gentleness, I sense such strength. So often we equate “gentle” with “weak,” but that is far from the truth! Gentleness requires restraint and purposefulness, doesn’t it? Thank you for sharing a timely and important message. xoxo
Michelle Reyes says
That’s so good, Robin! In gentleness, there truly is a quiet strength. It takes self-control and wisdom to know when to speak and how. Thanks for sharing that. May we all journey a little closer toward gentleness today <3
Ruth Mills says
Michelle, you have spoken Jesus’ truths into my heart! I am in desperate need of learning the gentle tone of asking questions! Thank you for sharing this! Blessings on blessings on you!
Michelle Reyes says
Thank you, Ruth — and me too! No matter how well-intended our statements or questions are, if they are not conveyed with gentleness, we won’t have the effect we were hoping. I’ve learned that it is best to just stay silent until I can speak in a gentle way.
What a reminder and refresher for each and everyone of us. Beautifully written. Thank you. Blessings ❣️
Michelle Reyes says
Thank you, Barb! I wish I didn’t need to be reminded daily to be gentle, but I do! It’s an intentional choice we need to make every day. Many blessings to you today.
Kathleen B. says
Your reflection and suggestions hold such value. I will be rereading, using, and sharing these ways of working towards peaceful and positive discussions. Thanks!
Michelle Reyes says
Praise God! I’m so glad this article encouraged you, Kathleen. Those practices are things I’m reminding myself of today, especially affirming the good.
I loved this! Thank you!
Michelle Reyes says
Thanks, Courtney. May we all choose gentleness today <3
ANGELA WASHINGTON says
Thanks so much for sharing. Truly needed so often we do come across harshly when the message can be more powerful when presented gently
Such wise words. And so in tune with my Lenten goal to quiet the tongue.
Kathleen M Buckner says
Thank you for these wise words. To be like Jesus in this way is counterintuitive..as my flesh will flash to anger so quickly. This hit the mark for me and I pray for Him to work through me for change and healing .
These Words are so so True!
There is to much noise in
Jesus softly & tenderly is calling
Us to be kind to each other….
Thank you for reminding us
Judy Allen says
Thank you for this article. I love the Colossians 4:5-6 verse about conversation being full of grace and seasoned with salt, which to me means we should be characterized by gracious speech, but with just a little bit of spice, flavoring, and thought-provoking words. That is my goal. Thank you also for the reminder to ask questions. My tendency is to rush to an answer instead of asking for more information.
Thank you for this. There are things going on in my life right now and reading this today will make me pause before responding.
Janet Trenda says
Beautifully said and a warm invitation- thanks.
I will be printing this essay and tucking it into my Bible.
linda k williamson says
Beautiful thoughts and words for today straight from the heart!!
There is a balance somewhere; we also need “you’re keeping others out of the kingdom and you yourselves refuse to enter” and “you brood of vipers” and whatnot (and “you’re right that you don’t have a husband at this time; you’ve had stacks of husbands and the man you have now is not your husband”). But yes: mostly, questions, statements, gentleness. Truth+love will sometimes be “nice” and sometimes not be “nice” – but mostly I’m replying with this because I was brought up to be more nice than loving (Christian Good Girl: if everyone’s placated, you’ve done the right things, even if it took bad cover-ups, and frankly the church needs to prioritize *not sinning* higher than *placating people*). And I want to note, for everyone who feels that making people face down the fact they’re sinning is never the right way for anyone to go, that Jesus brought people face to face with their sin, too (but with “now go and leave your life of sin” – there is hope wherever there is repentance!).
(but mostly: gentleness. Just, seasoned with salt as necessary. Don’t forget the salt!)
I agree. Lord God help me display more Christlike Gentleness in my in my Words & whole Conversations. Remembering my Goal isn’t victory at any cost! Amen.
. . . just God in all His glory, my friends. Amen
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
Michelle thank you for what you wrote. It so true when we live in the world we do. With so many people with hate in their hearts. They are all about why should I. It’s my life I live it my way. That sad people think like that. We have especially if saved. Show we are different. Show the love of Jesus to all people. Not judge them for feeling the way they do. If it caused by hate or they say why should I especially of something happened in their life too make them this way. We are to show the Gentleness of Jesus Love to them. Show they can change and see it in their hearts to forgive. If someone has hurt them for the way react. Tell them if saved in a nice way what Jesus would want them to do it as it says in his word to forgive. Jesus showed Gentleness to all people when on earth that he came in contact with. Jesus show them love. If we want to change the world saved and unsaved people. Make the world a better place we have to do as Jesus did when alive. Show the saved especially. If we can they will listen. Have to put what causing them to be like they are behind them and put it into the hands of Jesus in prayer. Ask him to help them chance not be the way they are. Be the people God intended them to be. Loving kind and caring. To people of all walks of life. Even if the way they feal is over something someone did or said to them. Let it go and forgive that person. As Jesus would want them to do that. Thoes not saved. Just show them the Love and Gentleness of Jesus. Be a friend to them. Show you are different than the person or things that causing them to be the way they are. Like Jesus did with the Sinful woman in Luke 7:36-50. This woman before she was forgiven by Jesus. She washed his feet with her hairs and tears. She showed loved and Gentleness to Jesus. All the people there that day didn’t they ran her down in front of Jesus instead of showing kindness and gentleness to her. In front of Jesus. No matter what her sins were. It was not up to them to judge her for her wrong. They were sinners themselves. Like we all are before we came to know Jesus as our Savior. They should have been showing her Gentleness and the Love of Jesus. Trying to help her. Not judge her. In this story in our Bibles we see Jesus had compassion and gentleness in his heart for her. Jesus told them all their faults. Not like this woman she anointed Jesus head with oil. Jesus said you did not anoint my head with oil. They did care about the woman. They cared about their own needs didn’t show kindness and gentleness. Not even to Jesus or the woman. So in Jesus kindness and gentleness. He told the woman her sins that were many are forgiven. Jesus showed her gentleness and kindness in all this. He didn’t judge her for her sins. We got to do the same. As we got to remember before we got saved we were sinners to. Jesus so his gentleness and kindness plus Love my forgiving us. Welcoming us in his wonderful family. When we got saved. Keeping you all incourage in prayer . Xx
Nancy Ruegg says
Wise advice, indeed, Michelle! Gentle questions can keep the conversation going in a positive direction. Force turns discussion into arguing or shuts the other person down. Lord, help me remember to lead with gentle questions!
Beth Williams says
This world is loud & boisterous. They shout their opinions & demand to be heard. What really needs to happen is people should talk less & listen more. Give others a chance to have their say. Then you can have your come back. Asking questions is a good conversation starter. Holley Gerth wrote an In Courage post where she stated use these seven (7) words to diffuse disagreements: “Can you help me understand?” and “What else?” Those & other questions will get conversations started. They allow people to share the reasons behind their opinions. Maybe we can all understand each other better.
Pearl Allard says
Yes! Agree completely. Gentle answers (or perhaps questions!) can turn aside wrath. Working towards connection and understanding can still take place even when we hold different views. Nobody wants to get beat up – with the truth or otherwise. Thank you.
Bill Weber says
Heartwarming, wise words. Thanks for sharing this.
“… The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity.” James 3:17 RSV Bible