Parenting is a balancing act in so many ways. For example, each day I try to help my kids balance their sleep. If they go to bed too early, they’ll wake up too early and be ready for a nap before school. If they go to bed too late, they’ll have trouble waking up and functioning the next day.
Character traits are like that too. We want our children to be strong—strong Christians, strong citizens, strong students, strong friends. Yet we also want them to be gentle—gentle Christians, gentle citizens, gentle students, gentle friends. How do we help our children see that balancing act in action? How can we show them that gentleness and strength are both qualities to be admired—in the right circumstances, in the right amounts? Three Christian parents share their takes on this topic.
Sometimes we forget that Jesus is both strong and gentle.
The One who commanded the wind and waves—“Be quiet!”—also let little children clamber onto his lap for a blessing. The One who started crying at the sight of his beloved Jerusalem also strode into the Court of Gentiles with a whip, toppling tables, spilling coins, and driving out the merchants who didn’t belong there.
It’s a good reminder that a Christian man can be both strong and gentle, recognizing that strength is not brutality and gentleness is not weakness.
I still like the old term “gentleman.” I want to raise up sons who are gentlemen, whose gentleness is actually strength wrapped in wisdom. My picture of a gentleman is based on my gentleman father.
A gentleman knows he’s physically stronger than most women, so he opens doors for them, carries the heavy boxes, and walks on the curb side of the sidewalk for their protection. Dads, let’s model these courtesies. Moms, let’s sometimes say, “I need somebody’s muscles for this bag”—even if it’s not that heavy.
A gentleman knows when he has to get physical—as Jesus did. Sometimes brutes only respond to brute strength, and a man has to defend himself, his friends, his family, or his country. Moms, if God made our little boys to be the wrestle-on-the-floor type, we can let them exercise that instinct. And if God made them more inclined to defend others with words than wallops, we can let them exercise that instinct.
A gentleman cries. Let’s never say, “Big boys don’t cry,” if crying is exactly what a situation calls for. If we have an overly sensitive child on our hands, though, one who cries at the drop of a hat, well, that’s a whole different article.
A gentleman respects others. This plays out in a number of ways.
- A gentleman gives others room to speak. He doesn’t need to dominate, filling rooms with his opinions and thoughts and disregarding others. Instead, he’s a leader who listens. Dads, you can help by leading that way yourself and by refereeing the kids’ verbal tussles: “Hey, don’t interrupt each other . . .” “Try saying yes first. Find points of agreement before you disagree.”
- A gentleman cleans up. Moms, we need to rein in our instinct to pick up every vagabond sock and clean up every mess because it’s faster. Let the lads take responsibility for themselves.
- A gentleman has good manners. He looks people in the eye, shakes hands firmly, and says, “Please.” He doesn’t start eating until everyone has their food, and he knows how to chew with his mouth closed. This isn’t pretension. It’s respect for others.
Finally, a gentleman keeps his word. He’s trustworthy. He has integrity. The whole world can depend on the word of a gentleman.
Your picture of a gentleman might be different than mine. That’s okay. Hopefully we all agree, though, that our boys can be both gentle and strong, just like Jesus—the One who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18), and also “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29).
Teaching our kids to find a balance between strength and gentleness is tough, because there’s a tension, isn’t there? On the one hand we’d like to see our kids strong—leaders making use of their gifts. On the other hand we want them to understand the value of gentleness—a humility, putting others first.
As Christians we know to look to God’s Word for answers, and what we find is very satisfying. Whether we’re talking about the strength side of the scale or the gentleness side, it’s not about us; it’s about God. That takes the pressure off.
For example, a child who is strong in an area tends to gain a level of notoriety. If the child takes credit for the strength, there is a lack of consideration toward other children who don’t have that strength. There is an unspoken condescension, a misunderstanding that she somehow achieved things on her own to be better than other kids. God’s Word tells us that our talents and abilities are gifts from God and it is God who should receive the glory. A child who properly understands this can be strong and gentle, humbly thanking God for opportunities and acknowledging that other kids, through their own strengths or even weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9,10), are equally blessed with opportunities to glorify God.
A child’s acts of gentleness can also be flawed. He may figure that niceness should earn him niceness in return. If that doesn’t happen, the child might decide there is no longer any advantage to being nice. The Bible teaches that since God has shown us undeserved love in forgiving our sins against him through Jesus, we are called by God to show love to friends and enemies alike. A child who properly understands this can be gentle and strong, showing the grace of God even in the face of resistance.
As parents it’s beneficial to be regularly in God’s Word ourselves and with our kids to grasp God’s strength as well as his grace and to see how both affect our lives. The Bible is full of good examples, but perhaps the best place to start is with Jesus himself, our perfect model of strength and gentleness. His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5–7) offers a great perspective.
Remember how it felt to be kids dealing with social pressures? We can pray that God through his Word will help us relieve our kids’ stresses by teaching them that they aren’t alone when it comes to demonstrating strength and gentleness. Rather, God through Jesus has blessed us with the privilege of sharing his strength and gentleness with others.
How wonderful it is to have the opportunity to teach gentleness and strength to our kids. However, I have to admit, I wonder how my wife, Kelly, and I are fostering gentleness and strength in our kids within a culture that seems to encourage one over the other: “Be strong!” “Be assertive!” “Teach your kids not to cry!” “Don’t give in!” “Win at all costs!”
Gentleness can be seen by some as weak, vulnerable, or cowardly. Kelly recently witnessed this at our local drug store and shared it with the kids and me when she got home. A customer in line ahead of her became verbally abusive to a cashier when an incorrect amount was accidentally charged on her debit card. The customer accused the cashier of intentionally trying to steal money and provided some extra choice words to enhance her position. Kelly noted, though, that the cashier was cool and calm, gently responding to the customer. The cashier acknowledged the customer’s concern, reassured her, and made the adjustment or refund—even thanking her for shopping at the store as she left.
When we talked about the event, I asked, “How did that cashier not get angry?” I think that in that instance the cashier was using more strength than the customer.
We can appreciate our culture’s understanding of strength, but we shouldn’t use it as an excuse to be abusive and go well beyond appropriate assertiveness. As we consider the example of Christ Jesus and are motivated by his love for us, a simple act of gentleness can be an unselfish act of love that so many people are yearning to see.
Consider the strength it takes to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3,4).
The amazing thing about this is that the strength it takes to be gentle and unselfish is given to us by God—it’s a natural result of our faith and love for him. After thinking about Kelly’s experience, I can now better appreciate the essence of a gentle response in the face of what some view as a “strong” approach. I can’t help but apply this to my own parenting and my temptation to sacrifice gentleness for strength or control.
I’m convinced that experiences similar to what Kelly saw in the store are all around my kids on the episodes of the latest Netflix series, in school, or on the “funny” YouTube video shared by friends. These poor examples of people being strong or selfishly stronger than others won’t teach appropriate boundaries or proper assertiveness to our kids, but they can be opportunities to give to others what is so desperately needed—an example of strength in gentleness as a result of a loving faith.
Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 105, Number 03
Issue: March 2018