When I worked at a day care center several summers ago, the classroom often felt like a miniature drama of human life. Little children, just one or two years old, played with colorful plastic fruits and vegetables. They would fill their tiny “grocery carts” with food before stuffing them into a play kitchen with a small microwave, oven, and sink. I loved watching them “cook” and “clean” in their tiny play kitchen, mimicking the chores of real life with gusto.
But then inevitably, one child would steal a piece of plastic food from another. The robbed child would then howl in anger and attempt a slap or scratch. At this point, I would jump in to parry the blow. “No, no, no! Gentle hands, Sarah. Please give the fruit back, Connor. We use gentle hands with our friends, right? Gentle.”
“Gentle hands” was our kid-friendly way to say, “Let’s not slap each other.” It was supposed to be a positive way to reinforce gentleness, instead of merely condemning violence. But it’s difficult for a two-year-old to understand why she shouldn’t retaliate with a slap, especially if she was the one wronged. And the concept of kind and gentle actions in the face of injustice can be hard to grasp at any age.
In Philippians 4:5, Paul tells the Christians in Philippi, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” It’s almost as if Paul would say to us today, “Have gentle hands! There’s no need for anger. Let’s not treat our brothers and sisters roughly.” We might laugh at indignant toddlers in the nursery who fight over plastic fruit, but our gut reaction to lash out doesn’t change as we age.
In Galatians 5:22-23, we learn that gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit. It is something that God cultivates and produces in our lives when we draw near and abide in Him. I think we often treat “gentleness” as a lesser fruit of the Spirit; it doesn’t seem as glamorous as self-control or as desirable as joy. But exhibiting gentleness is a wonderfully powerful way to mimic Christ. Jesus described Himself as “humble and gentle at heart” (Matthew 11:29), and so should we be.
What does being gentle have to do with the second part of Paul’s statement—“The Lord is near?” When we exhibit the fruit of gentleness, we give others a taste of what the kingdom of God looks like. We proclaim that the day of salvation is at hand—a day when everything that is wrong will be made right, and we will be called to account for our conduct. When we choose to exhibit gentleness, we affirm our trust in the highest power. And when we are gentle to those who seem less deserving of it, we display Christ’s sacrificial and merciful love to an undeserving world.
Today, may we remember the gentle love of Jesus. May we hold back our anger and refrain from violence in word or deed. May we be considerate of others and seek their best, instead of our own. May God enable us to have “gentle hands.”
—By Karen Pimpo, USA
Questions for reflection
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