Growing in Gentleness in the Midst of Overwhelm

It’s been a busy Monday morning, and everythinghas gone wrong. Your alarm didn’t go off, so you had a late start to the day. Your toddler didn’t sleep well the night before, so you have a nice set of bags under your eyes. Your first breakfast burned, so you were stuck eating a bowl of cereal. The dog also felt the need to take her food out of her dish and put it on your newly cleaned floor, where someone accidently stepped in it and crushed it further into the crevices.

When your husband spilled his coffee on the way out the door this morning, you couldn’t help but finally crack. “What is wrong with everyone this morning?! Why can’t I simply have a peaceful morning? I am so sick of this crazy house!”

I’m sure each of us has experienced a morning like this, or maybe an entire day like this. So we know that flustered, irritated, and exasperated feeling that bring on anxiety. If I could just get a break, then I would feel so much better, and I could deal with this anxiety.

Maybe. But I don’t think that break is going to work the miracle of change in your flustered life that you are hoping for. Even though if you take that break, or go on that vacation, or have that self-care day, when you return your life is still going to be the same. There will still be messes to clean. There will still be faulty alarms. Things will happen to irritate us. And the anxiety will still rampage when it all happens.

What we need is not a break, but a heart change. We need to cultivate a gentle spirit.

This is our second week in the Restoring Peace from Anxiety series. Last week we put off our anxiety with joy, but this week we are looking at creating a gentle spirit that doesn’t get ruffled in the midst of overwhelm.

What Is A Gentle Spirit?

Paul exhorts the Philippian church to let their gentle spirit be known to all men (Philippians 4:5). The word Paul used here for “gentle” was epieikēs. Some of the ways in which this word has been translated are generous, moderate, reasonable, yielding, forgiving, good, and accommodating, all of which connote a giving and tolerant attitude. We find this word used in contrast to violence (1 Timothy 3:3) and quarreling (Titus 3:2).

John MacArthur defines it this way: “This refers to contentment with and generosity toward others. It can also refer to mercy or leniency toward the faults and failures of others. It can even refer to patience in someone who submits to injustice or mistreatment without retaliating. Graciousness with humility encompasses all the above.”¹

Someone who is gentle doesn’t become flustered easily. This isn’t a calling to be a doormat, someone who is walked all over by others. Rather, a gentle woman isn’t going to become quickly overwhelmed, bothered, irritated, or upset with others or situations. She can react calmly and with poise. Because she is so level-headed, she doesn’t become overwhelmed by anxiety, but thinks reasonably through any problem or conflict.

Paul does not simply ask the Philippians to have this attitude, but to live in such a way that it is known to all men. Paul uses this word for “known” in three other letters (2 Corinthians 2:9; Galatians 3:7; Ephesians 5:5), all of which indicate knowledge with certainty.

In other words, Paul is telling the Philippian church that they are to express their gentle spirit in such a way that others will take notice and be aware of it; there should be no doubt to the outside world concerning their tolerance and kindness towards others. This would in turn be a witness for Christ, as he had previously instructed them to be (2:14-17).

Are you known for this kind of gentle disposition? Or are you known for being like an anxious squirrel, running around in frantic panic in every stressful situation? Are you known for graciousness towards others, or do people feel that they need to walk on eggshells around you because you blow up at any moment? Are you a woman of poised composition, or a ticking timebomb?

The Heart Behind a Gentle Spirit

Gentle people aren’t gentle because they have simply bottled all their frustration and anger inside. Gentle people don’t have this kind of spirit because they simply grit their teeth all day with clenched fists and a strained smile. They are not simply called gentle people, but people with a gentle spirit—that is, their hearts are also gentle.

Such gentleness comes from a heart that is set on this truth: The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5b). A gentle woman has a deep, residing peace in her heart that keeps her from becoming anxious, angry, and stress. This peace comes from her knowledge about God. She knows that her life is in his hands, therefore anything that passes by her first passed through him. Anything she experiences was put in her life by her sovereign and good God for her best and his glory (Romans 8:28-30).

Knowing this, she is able to react and think reasonably to conflict and stress. She knows that it first came from God, so it must be for her good. She knows that God has not abandoned her, but is with her even still. She has her eyes set on eternity, the things that matter most, so that the troubles of life do not frazzle her. When people hurt her, she finds comfort in knowing her perfect God never will. When she is without, she finds peace knowing that God is her provider.

She has a Colossians 3:1-4 heart:

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (ESV).

With her mind set on the glory of eternity, there is no place for anxiety in her heart. Her only response to life can a gentle one.

Becoming Gentle

When we put on a gentle spirit, our actions are sure to follow. We can think through issues much more reasonably, and then cultivate a more godly response.

Becoming gentle first requires a slow tongue. Our sinful nature is prone to react immediately to situations and people, but to be gentle we need to practice thinking before reacting. Consider the issue in light of eternity, in light of who God is. Consider what his Word says about how you should respond. Taking a moment to pause before speaking can help us choose the gentle reaction rather than the anxious and angry one. It gives us a moment to remember the eternal truths we know to give us peace about the situation.

Secondly, we need to be in the Word. The Bible has many exhortations about being gentle, and reminds us of that eternal perspective we need in order to be gentle. Rather than filling our minds with heated online conversations, internal complaints, angry music or videos, fill your mind with Scripture. As we become more and more full of God’s Word, that is what pours out of us, it’s what controls us. If we are filling ourselves with the things of this world, then worldly responses will eventually sneak out. But if we are filled with Scripture, we can expect Scripture to be our initial response.

Becoming a gentle woman isn’t about being abused by others, or “grinning and bearing” through all the thorns and thistles sin has left in this world. Being a gentle woman is being a woman who is convinced of who God is, trusts in him, and sets her eyes on eternity. She responds with grace, patience, and mercy, rather than anxiety.

  1. John MacArthur, Dr., The MacArthur Bible Commentary(Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 1725.

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