It may not be the first quality that comes to mind when many people think of Christians, but the New testament makes frequent reference in a variety of ways to “gentleness” as a fundamental characteristic of the Christian life.

Here are a few pertinent biblical texts with some comment:

be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

“Gentleness” is not foreign territory. There is a place within me which is “tender-hearted.” There is a part of my being that is created for “gentleness.” As a person “created in the image of God,” who is merciful, “gentleness” is not a foreign substance. I may not always behave in a gentle way; but I am gentle. Despite all appearances to the contrary, gentleness is my true nature.

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:36)

As it is the nature of God to be “merciful,” so, when I live in tune with my true nature, I too will “be merciful.” To be “merciful” is to be gentle.

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. (Philippians 4:5)

“Gentleness” is an observable quality. It can “be known to everyone.” I wonder if “gentleness” is the quality that comes to mind when people think about my life.

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3)

The opposite of gentleness is hardness, violence, resistance, tightness, judgement, and harshness. These anti-gentle qualities always lead to unrest, turmoil, dissension, division, discord, the breakdown of human community, and the destruction of life. “Gentleness” leads to peace, restoration and healing.

If I pay attention, I can feel the difference between gentleness and resistance in my body. I can observe the effects of gentleness in my stance and in the sound of my voice, the tenor of my speech and the impact I have on people.

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12)

Gentleness is a choice. It is a direction I can decide to go. I see within myself that place that is hard, tight, resistant, and narrow. At the same time, I see that place that is open, soft, expansive, accepting, and welcoming. I can “clothe” myself with one garment or the other. I have the choice in every situation to move towards the rigid or the soft.

as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. (I Timothy 6:11)

Choosing gentleness means “shunning” the demand that my way is the only way. Gentleness requires that I step aside from any requirement that you conform to my wishes, needs, or desires. When I choose gentleness I walk away from that nagging persistent voice that insists my view of the world is the only view and everyone must fall into line with my perceptions of reality and my wishes for how life should unfold. Gentleness is willing to yield.

When I practice gentleness, no one is forced to fit into my little version of the world.

I can tell I am practicing gentleness because people are not fearful and tense in my presence. Gentleness creates an open space in which people feel free to be the people they were created to be.