This week was a tough one. I had a couple of tests and papers that had snuck up on me and there was an embarrassingly little amount of sleep had over the course of the week. These weeks happen semi-frequently in the college experience. However, needless to say, I was a bit irritable on more than one occasion during this particularly stressful time.
But, through this week, I started noticing how my bout of irritability affected others, when I would give slack to my friends and peers and respond a bit too curtly to others’ thoughts and feelings. I would respond without gratitude for kind gestures and I would neglect the lives of those surrounding me. Is this how I can best represent Christ? Doubtful.
I’m grateful for those who are understanding of me when I’m not feeling my best. However, what many of us forget is that we’re still liable for our actions, even when we aren’t in the best of moods. Often times during these periods the people who get the worst of us is our closest friends: the people who deserve the absolute best love we can muster.
My closest friends were the ones who got the harshest effects of my bad mood. I would become passive-aggressive towards my roommate and hallmates about small things and become less intentional with my friendships with them. They were the ones who got my purest aggression and irritability. I suppose I figured, “Well, these people aren’t going anywhere. If these are permanent friends, then they might as well get the whole picture!” This is the situation I would like to zero in on. Parks and Recreation's April Ludgate, the queen of passive-aggression, says to her friend Ann, “My instinct is to be mean to you.” I thought it fitting.
In Galatians, along with all the other fruits of the spirit, there is one fruit that is often read over without consideration: gentleness. What is gentleness? Paul says to Timothy to be “not violent, but gentle, not quarrelsome” to the people who are in his care. Are our close friends not in our care? Has the Lord not placed them with us intentionally? How can we become more gentle?
Gentleness is essentially the opposite of harshness or carelessness. When I am passive-aggressive to my roommate, I’m not being gentle, I’m being the opposite: aggressive (albeit in a passive manner, which is, truly, no less aggressive). Scripture calls us to speak gently, like in Proverbs 15, where it says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” And also in Ephesians 4, where it says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Gentleness is clearly important enough to integrate in our daily interactions. I believe that should start with our closest friends and family.
For many of us, we can gather enough gentleness care for more distant acquaintances, even when we don’t feel like it. But why do our closest friends get our abuse? Do they not also need a gentle soul to care for them like our acquaintances?
We forget that we need to be intentionally loving and gentle to everyone, especially our closest friends. Like April, we might start to develop habits of lashing out at loved ones, even when we don’t realize it. It becomes our instinct to become careless and flippant with our close friends, just because they’re close to us. We forget to be gentle to those we love merely because they have a more permanent bond with us, because they aren’t going anywhere. However, we cannot become careless, or else we strain our relationships with those we love most.
I propose that we should love our friends more intentionally when we’re stressed and tired. We should remember to be gentle with them because the Father has put them in our care. We should remember to speak and act gently towards them because that’s what Jesus wants for us. And with the Spirit’s guidance, we can have gentler spirits that produce joy-filled relationships.