Reflections on Meekness: Being Gentler With the Ones We Love
by Ray DeGraw
As I have considered more deeply the concept of becoming more meek, I have been struck by the following:
1) Being gentle applies to every interpersonal relationship and activity in our lives. As I said in my post last Sunday, it has become apparent to me that we don’t become meek by what we do (acting meekly); we become meek by how we think and feel (which then motivates our actions). I know that might seem like semantics, but it has been an important insight for me.
2) As I said in my initial meekness post last Sunday, I am naturally kind and generous, but I am not as naturally gentle. Two out of three does not wholeness make. If I simply want to be more meek than many people, two out of three might suffice; if I want to be more meek as I progress toward perfect meekness, two out of three won’t get me there. I need to work on the 1/3 I don’t possess naturally.
3) It is much easier for me to be gentle outside my home than it is with my daily frustrations at home. Likewise, it is much easier to be gentle with strangers than it is to be gentle in situations where I am interacting with those I love and where I am invested emotionally to a deeper degree. That fascinates me, since it appears to be counter-intuitive. You would think I would be gentler with the ones I love the most, but the opposite is true.
Why is that?
Two things have struck me this month – relative to both my biological family and my online family (those people I have come to love and admire in my blogging spheres):
a) I am more protective of those I love, and the deeper that love is the more strong my protective instincts are. Therefore, I tend to defend them more instinctively, which means to act more quickly and reflexively, which means with less pre-thought, consideration and control. In these instances, I allow myself to be acted upon (to respond reactively) more often than when I have time consciously to think about and choose my words and actions (to respond proactively). In other words, when I feel that someone I love and/or admire greatly is being attacked or unfairly accused, I tend to fall back on whatever my natural reaction is – which tends not to be as gentle as I want it to be.
b) I have higher expectations of those I love and admire. I want them to be better, to grow, to progress, to be more Christlike. When some stranger does or says something insensitive, mean or even terrible, I don’t like it, but I am not invested emotionally as deeply in that person as I am in someone whom I know far better and have served directly. Therefore, I am more able to respond in a gentle fashion, since my expectations were lower at the time. As I have thought actively about meekness, I have found myself on many occasions, as I have blogged at various locations, being able to step back and reword my initial comments, often with the explicit statement “as gently as I can say this.” That has been encouraging to me.
It is much harder, however, when the insensitive, mean, or even terrible thing that is said or done comes from a family member or someone on a blog whom I love and/or admire. My natural reaction is to be disappointed and, by extension, hurt by such words or actions; hence, my natural response is to deflect that disappointment and hurt back to the source, and that is not a naturally gentle action.
Previous to my focus on meekness, I had never understood very well the axiom, “You only hurt the ones you love.” I always had thought it was completely wrong and nonsensical, since I know -and know of – plenty of people who hurt those they don’t love, often in terrible ways. I think I understand it better after having pondered meekness more deeply.
To put things in terms of Mormon theology, at the telestial level, people hurt people, with little distinction between those they love and those they don’t love. At the terrestrial level, people have learned to not judge and react toward those they don’t know; hence, they only hurt those they know, and those they love are those they know the best. (They are the only ones who care about you enough to be hurt by your actions; they are the only ones about whom you care enough to react in a hurtful way.)
At the celestial level, people stop judging those they know and love; they stop projecting their own expectations onto others completely and simply accept them as they are; they respond gently and lovingly because they stop holding others to a false standard those others simply can’t live. It seems like such a paradox, since our ultimate focus should be to help others learn and grow, but that service can be given without expectation, pressure, disapproval and condemnation even to those from whom we naturally expect the most. It can be given gently and with benevolence.
Remember, “reproving betimes with sharpness” has many possible translations, but the one that fits what I believe to be the best model means telling (a person) that s/he has done wrong immediately but precisely, in a manner focused solely on what is wrong - and it is followed by “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost.” I dare say that most of the reproving we do, if we have progressed to at least a terrestrial level of meekness, is not done under the prompting of the Holy Ghost, and it probably is not done with a strait and narrow focus solely on the wrong. The insight to determine exactly the wrong that caused the reaction probably is difficult (or impossible) to gain without the guidance of the Holy Ghost, since we still see through our own glasses, darkly.
I have been much more aware of my non-gentle reactions as I have focused on meekness, both when I have succeeded in quelling them and when I have not done so. It has been interesting to be more aware of a non-gentle reaction that I still was unable to stop even as I was aware of it, and to look back and try to determine if that inability to stop was due to weakness or the prompting of the Holy Ghost. At different times, I believe it has been both. I have a ways to go before I can be wholly, completely finished and developed in meekness, but I have appreciated the opportunity to recognize a weakness I wasn’t aware of fully and learn more about what I need to do to make this weak thing become strong.