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I'll Take Off My Shoes If You Ask Me To

Last week I wrote about taking a Post Traumatic Growth assessment, to decide if we've learned anything useful in two years of pandemic living. One of the questions was: How have our relationships grown?

Another way to assess? How have my relational skills grown?

I'll tell you right now, some of my relationships are still under stress and in flux. And as I navigate this in-between time, I'm reflecting on a Bible study lesson I wrote pre-pandemic, about the character qualities that God told us, through the apostle Paul, we should "put on" to show we are made new in Christ: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and forbearance. (Colossians 3:12-13)

On a walk with my friend Jen this weekend, we reflected on what we learned about ourselves and our 20-plus year friendship. We needed a refresher course on gentleness. And boy, did we get it. We learned that we have to continually choose to put on our "new creation" qualities, even in the relationships that are most intimate and dear to us. We can't take for granted how important it is to be gentle to one another.

So I wanted to share with you some points from Session Two of my All My Friends Have Issues Bible study.

Gentleness isn’t the personality trait of an introverted person. It’s not the absence of being loud and forceful. Instead, it’s a spiritual disciple in which you control your strength in order to be thoughtful of others. Gentleness respects boundaries both physical and emotional. Gentleness doesn’t invade people’s space, not physically, not emotionally, and not spiritually. Gentleness reads the room: It attunes to the people around you and helps you pick up clues that you have hurt someone's feeling or made them uncomfortable. Gentleness enters a host's house, and takes its shoes off, respecting the honor of being allowed into someone's private space.

Hopefully you wouldn't argue with someone about the transmission of germs or lack thereof by wearing shoes inside their home; you'd just do what your host asks. In the last two years, we might say that gentleness could have prompted us to walk into a small business and put a mask on if the owners asked us to, no matter how we felt about their efficacy. Gentleness puts other people and their comfort first.

I want to tell you a story about gentleness and going to Costco several years ago. Now, I believe that Costco on Sunday is where people go to express their evil nature. They push, they shove, and -- pre-pandemic -- they elbowed their way toward the sample table like they haven’t eaten in days. One day I was standing in a very long line at Costco, a line that went down the center aisle and then broke off into the individual cashier lines. A woman and her adult daughter bypassed that whole center line, and as they did it, they clipped me in the achilles tendon with their giant cart. [Insert me growling here.]

So, I said, "Um, excuse me, the line is back there behind me. See all those people?" And they pretended not to hear me. So, I said, "Um, excuse me, you hit me with your cart."I was mad. My tone showed it.

As I was checking out, the daughter came up to me, put her arm around me and said, “You really should try to be a more gentle person. God bless you,"and walked away.

I was so angry, that I called my husband from the parking lot and raged. How dare a total stranger hurt me, cut in front of my, and then lecture me?

But let’s be honest. There were three ungentle people in this story.

First, the eldest woman, who cut in line, and hit a stranger with her cart. She was not paying attention to the people around her.

Secondly, me, who appointed herself Costco Line Police. There were 20 people behind me, and I’m the only one who said anything, because I have appointed myself as defender of all righteousness of the universe, in big and small things.

And third, the daughter, who invaded my space, and tried to teach me, a totally stranger how to improve my character. Making her the second person in this story who is trying to change the character of stranger. (I was the first, in case you aren't following.)

There's lots to learn here. It's definitely okay to defend yourself physically -- in fact you should! But in this case, I was nipped, not assaulted. It may been a moment to just stand down. This applies to me as a friend, mother, daughter in law, and member of small groups. Sometimes I have a tendency to point out flaws in an ungentle -- or even public -- way instead of holding back and thinking it through before I decide if my feedback is both loving and necessary.

Here is my exhortation to you, as you are growing in insight and self-awareness, as of course you must be or you would have stopped reading by now.

Will you, in the name of gentleness, work on reading the room, whether the room is the grocery store line, your small group gathering, your conference room, your next family gathering, or someone else's Facebook page?

Will you be the gentle one who notices when you invade someone’s space? Will you be the one who notices that your co-worker is giving verbal clues that your questions have crossed the line and she wants to change the subject. Will you notice the person at Bible study or the office meeting who is showing with her body language that she’s feeling overwhelmed? Will you be the one who recognizes that the last thing you said on the phone made your friend go quiet – and be brave enough to ask if you've hurt her feelings?

This week, work on the simple act of being attuned to attuned to people. It is the first step toward being gentle. We've been invited, in so many ways, into people's personal space. Let's work on respecting that privilege.

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