Blessed are the Meek: Defining Meekness as a Personal Quest

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by Ray DeGraw

[Over the next few Sundays we are publishing a series from Ray that will focus on the Sermon on the Mount, analyzing each characteristic of godliness found in Matthew 5-7. Essay 1, Essay 2.]

kind manMeek is defined in the original Greek as gentle, forgiving, benevolent – with benevolent defined as kindly generous. Initially, I saw these as three distinct aspects of meekness, but as I thought more about it I realized that they simply are different manifestations that lead to the same thing.

I was participating in a discussion thread on a large group blog a few years ago that was getting fairly polarized, particularly between a couple of commenters. I identified immediately with one of those commenters, and I was about to respond to something the other one said, something with which I disagreed. Suddenly, it hit me, right out of the blue:

I could be gentle in my response, by softening what I felt like saying; I could be forgiving in my response, by not taking his comments personally, which would lead me to be less harsh and more gentle in my response and softening what I felt like saying; I could be benevolent (kindly generous) in my response, by pausing before I responded and really thinking about if there was something of value in his comments – something I could compliment or from which I could learn – which would cause me to be less harsh and more gentle and soften what I felt like saying. Any one of these initial efforts would lead automatically to the other two, making my response, if I chose to pursue it in that manner, more gentle, forgiving and benevolent: making me more meek in my response.

What struck me as I thought about that experience later is that meekness is not an action; it is a way of seeing things: a viewpoint, a perspective, an outlook, an attitude. We don’t act meekly; we are meek. In other words: actions don’t bring meekness; meekness inspires actions.

It is fascinating to me that as I study the characteristics listed in the Sermon on the Mount more deeply, I have come to a stronger conviction that spiritual poverty, mourning with those who mourn (and comforting those who stand in need of comfort), and meekness all are characteristics that bring forth fruits meet for repentance – that change how I act – that are NOT the result of my actions.

I think we need to stop trying so hard to DO and focus instead on BECOMING. The do will happen as a direct result of the becoming, but what we do will be His fruits rather than our works, and I believe that distinction is at the heart of real meekness.

Rather than asking, “What would Jesus do?” perhaps we should be asking,

Who has Jesus asked me to become?

Truly, He was gentle, forgiving, and benevolent.  He was meek.  My responsibility is to look actively for ways to be meek in the way that He was meek.

Image credit: Dey, Kumbhalgarh Fort

About Ray DeGraw

I am the husband of my high school sweetheart and father of six children. I basically have no life outside of family, work and church - except blogging, which I have been doing actively, to put it mildly, for the past 5 years. I have lived in almost every section of the United States and currently reside in Carson City, NV. I have written at Things of My Soul, Mormon Matters, Times & Seasons and StayLDS.com - and commented more than occasionally at various sites in the Bloggernacle.

5 Responses to Blessed are the Meek: Defining Meekness as a Personal Quest

  1. templegoer says:

    One aspect of my prayers has been that I might become the parent that my children need, and as I have developed the capacity to be led by the Spirit in this I have found myself able to bend my will to develop a meeker approach. At times my children seem to have needed to be quite attacking and confrontational in relation to the gospel and other aspects of how we live as a family. It has really helped them to be convinced that our love is stronger than the chords of death as we have been able to roll with the punch and accept it as being where they are at the moment rather than a definition of their whole selves, and has offered them a way back without further provoking their wrath. Being able to respond by saying ‘I can see how you might think that…. rather than ‘How can you possibly think that…’ has been a useful response that we have found ourselves able to make. These thoughts and opinions can then be part of the family discourse rather than ending further conversation.

    I was listening to Marilynne Robinson talking about her book ‘Gilead’ today. Her protaganist as a man of God is striving constantly for humility, and is a beautiful embodiment of the quality.

  2. Bonnie says:

    Meekness is my word for this year: a powerful, indefatigable, spontaneous meekness. As I’ve taught I’ve referred repeatedly to this Greek triad of definition, because we have a tendency to equate meekness with humility when we encounter it elsewhere in the scriptures. While they are related qualities, and certainly meek people are humble, it’s interesting how meekness builds on humility. I like how you show us finding meekness no matter which of the three directions we take to it.

    I don’t think we disagree, but I think actions do bring meekness, because I’ve found that I have to act on my thoughts to create my being. In other words, the process of becoming is deliberate choice action based on a spiritually-motivated thought. In that way, just as faith-hope-charity cycle through one another building slowly on each other in a spiral taking us to heaven, I think knowing-doing-being are in a similar spiral. We grow by degrees in each. If I spend my time in my thoughts concentrating on becoming holy, I will delude myself if it doesn’t take shape in my actions as well.

    I think that was what you implied when you talked about mindfully doing with becoming in our focus.

  3. This blog post spoke to me. Becoming is my word for the year and I feel a lot of truth in what you shared. It makes me think of the talk President Monson gave a few years ago on charity, where he was talking about being more charitable as opposed to doing more charity:

    “I consider charity—or “the pure love of Christ”—to be the opposite of criticism and judging. In speaking of charity, I do not at this moment have in mind the relief of the suffering through the giving of our substance. That, of course, is necessary and proper. Tonight, however, I have in mind the charity that manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions, the kind of charity that forgives, the kind of charity that is patient.” (Quote taken from Chairty Never Faileth URL)

  4. Paul says:

    Being (or becoming) vs. doing. A really important distinction, and one that is difficult for a WASP mentality.

    Elder Oaks echoes your notion of becoming in his October 2000 conference talk: “The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become.” Interestingly, however, he seems also to recognize Bonnie’s point that what we do influences what we become.

    But I agree with all three of you: if we do just to do, it is insufficient. In the end, we are commanded to “be” perfect, not “do” perfect things.

    I also know that for me, who I am is created spiritually first and physically second. I must learn and study and decide. As my attitude moves, so do my actions in due course, even though it may take quite some time for them to follow. And as my actions change, it reinforces the shift in who I am becoming.

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