Reflections on Meekness: Being Gentler With the Ones We Love

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by Ray DeGraw

[On Sundays this year 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, Essay 3.]

A Pair of Ecuadorian Amazon Red-Lored  ParrotsAs 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.

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.

4 Responses to Reflections on Meekness: Being Gentler With the Ones We Love

  1. templegoer says:

    I particularly appreciate your description of what celestial meekness might look like. As you observe, it is paradoxical that we would let go of our ambitions for those we love and accept their right to exercise agency in a way which may appear radical to some. It’s hard not to have feelings about that though, in the moment. or even in the long term.

    My eldest married outside the temple this summer. It hurt more than I was able to anticipate, and I know that’s wrong. Not at all constructive. I think it’s likely that our other children will do likewise as our situation is very difficult, so I need to get over this pronto. In the abstract, my inner liberal is cool with all this. In the concrete, my footsteps are haunted by fear and anguish, and I am helpless to influence the outcome. There is so much grief around that it becomes very difficult to be the cool and gracious person I actually want to be. It means accepting a separation, a disidentification that it will maybe take a while to grow into. It’s me that has to change. I’m working on it.

  2. Bonnie says:

    This inter-relationship between benevolence, forgiveness, and gentleness is fascinating. I was just reading a Nibley essay (The Law of Consecration) in which he talks about partially living a law as not living it. So I can be perfectly obedient, except for when I consistently run red lights, and I’m not obedient. If I am perfectly honest, except for when I cheat on my taxes, I’m not honest. I can be perfectly true to my imaginary spouse (and others to their real life spouses) except for when I have dalliances, and I’m not true. It’s not about falling short and repenting; it’s about failing to ask a high standard, a reachable standard where we are, of ourselves.

    What you’re saying sounds parallel. I can be gentle, but not benevolent, and forgiving, but not gentle. It takes all three to make us meek, and shortchanging one will undermine the others. It requires a lot of introspection to spot our inconsistencies. Thank heavens we have the sacrament.

  3. Paul says:

    Ray, thanks for this thoughtful and thought-provoking post. This idea of gentleness is one I wrestle with, as well (as many of my posts and comments here and elsewhere make clear).

    The notion of telestial, terrestrial and celestial meekness is interesting to me — it provides a way to help me understand the consequences of not sorting this all out, and for that I thank you.

    Your reading of Sec 121 is spot on, in my view. Sharpness, said Elder Burton, is equal to the sharpness of a clear photograph, not the sharpness of an acid. Delivering that clear message ina way our loved ones (in particular) can understand is key to making any sense of it. Hurting them in the delivery does not make it easier to understand.

    I think one reason it is hard for us to be as gentle as we should with our loved ones is that we perceive the stakes to be so high. As Templegoer indicates in the first comment, it is exceptionally painful to watch our children walk a different path than our own; we get (or at least believe we do) the eternal consequences of such choices even if they don’t, and we just KNOW that they would be happier if they made different choices. When a gentle word doesn’t bring the expected change, we rush to a louder one because of our fears.

    A stake president used to remind me when we served together that eternity is a long time, and we need to wait upon the Lord. As urgent as a matter may seem to me, I cannot give in to the temptation to override gentleness because of the urgency.

  4. Ray says:

    Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I just want to make one comment at this time:

    I also believe patience and perspective are the key. I believe firmly that this life is the most critical stage of our eternal existence – but I see it that way simply because I believe ANY current moment is the most critical stage of ANY process. Given the enormity of time involved in our view of “all eternity”, and our belief that God is perfectly “long-suffering”, I am comforted greatly in the concept and principle of “eternal progression” – and that perspective allows me to be more patient and gentle than I would be otherwise.

    “I AM” is a powerful name for deity – and it influences greatly how I view a lot of these things.

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