Our church is studying 1 Thessalonians, and I was struck this past Sunday by Paul’s use of the word “gentle” in chapter 2. It is such a beautiful picture of motherhood, and I was greatly encouraged about the role that gentleness can play in our parenting.
- 1 Thessalonians 2:7-8
“But we were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Of all the fruits of the Spirit that we seek to display toward our children, gentleness is one that I have never considered deeply. Many mothers naturally know how to be gentle with their children. We wipe noses, change diapers, button up pajamas, whisper how much we love them, and hold them close when they’re scared of the dark.
But true gentleness goes far beyond a loving touch and a soft word. Being gentle toward our children is an intentional choice, one that we must make over and over again, day in and day out, even when we don’t feel like it. It must be led by the Holy Spirit and flow out of his concern for our children and wisdom for their training. It requires us to surrender our own will and emotions, and take them captive to Christ.
The dictionary defines gentle as “Tame; peaceable; not wild, turbulent or refractory; soothing; pacific. Treating with mildness; not violent.”
1 Thessalonians 2:7 gives us the picture of the nursing mother to help us understand gentleness. Do you remember nursing your baby? There’s nothing like it in the world, is there? I can remember so vividly holding my new child close, tucking him inside my shirt and snuggling up in bed, kissing the top of his head. What a tender scene the Holy Spirit chose to describe the Lord’s calling for us to be gentle!
So quickly, our tender newborns can become toddlers who whine, act up, trash our houses, and run us ragged. But even in our exhaustion, we are called to remain gentle with them. We must recall the affectionate desire we had toward our newborns, and treat our children as gently as we did then. We cannot be harsh with them, or wild, or out of control.
Why not? Because we are displaying the gospel to them. If we confess Christ as Lord, then our every action toward our children represents him. Verse 8 describes this as the result and goal of our gentleness toward our children. “We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”
Isn’t that the truth! Parenting costs us our own selves—our time, our peace, our home, our bodies and clothes and food and everything that used to be ours—we give and spend it all for these little ones.
Newborns steal your sleep and your body. Toddlers steal your dignity and your sanity. Preschoolers hijack your once calm thought-life with the Paw Patrol soundtrack on neverending repeat. Grade schoolers steal your time. They want so much of it. Since I’ve only gotten this far, and have no guarantee I’ll live beyond this phase, I can’t tell you what teenagers steal from you. But I’m sure it’s something, and that’s the point.
We give ourselves up to become parents, and in so doing, we are painting a picture of the sacrifice of Christ, which is the gospel. He gave up everything on our behalf, and he wasn’t bitter or resentful or angry about it. He didn’t hold it against us or wish we would go away. He was gentle.
Gentle, I must point out, is not passive. It is not letting our children run amok and do whatever pleases them. We are to remain steadfast, resolute, and consistent in our training. Paul did not compromise his message to the church in Thessalonica or water it down for fear of hurting their feelings. 1 Thessalonians 2:11-12 goes on to say that “like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God.”
These are truths that we know, but don’t often pause to drink in. I love how God uses parenting to train us in godliness. The next time you get a moment for some quiet time with the Lord, let your mind wander to those days when your children were newborns. Think how precious they are. Think about how much you love them, and the hopes you have for them. Ask for the self-control you need to be gentle with them. When they’re driving you crazy, here are some practical ways you can make gentleness your habit:
Get down on their level to look them in the eye and speak to them. You will speak more softly and with more intention.
Pause what you are doing. Don’t try to listen to them as you are looking at your phone or while you cook. If at all possible, stop and give them your attention.
Don’t yell at your kids. Save a raised voice for the most critical of situations or to warn them of harm. Don’t be in the habit of yelling as a means of communication. It will quickly lose its impact.
Leave yourself extra time. I am always the most impatient with my kids when we are running late and they are taking a million years to get their shoes on. Plan extra time when leaving the house so that you can gently and happily help them with their socks and laces.
If you feel yourself getting frustrated, stop and take a deep breath before you respond to your child. Make sure you have assessed their heart status before taking action.
Ask them, “Is Mommy gentle with you?” I asked this of my 7-year old daughter today and she rated me “most of the time” on the scale. :) Convicting!
Say encouraging things. Gentleness is proactive and intentional. Practice it.
And, hey, hang in there! Some days you and I are in the depths of the parenting trenches. It’s hard to cling to the promise that we WILL see the peaceful fruit of righteousness in our kids. And other days we see that fruit and it’s pure joy.
You can be encouraged by the words of Paul who reminds us that that our labor is not in vain. He says, in 1 Thessalonians 1:3, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” God does not forget your good works, nor your efforts to demonstrate the gentle love of Christ to your kids. Keep it up mama!