Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7
I am not easy with the word gentleness. Gentle people are often run over by those less gentle. However, I delight in gently nurturing babies. They have simple needs and wants. Gently nurturing babies is safe. Gently nurturing adults is frequently tricky, sticky, messy, and can feel rather unsafe. Babies reflect back only what they see in the eyes of the nurturer. As adults, we have learned to hide our inner core. We tend to show only what will get our needs or wants met with the least resistance.
In looking at other biblical translations of gentleness, I found many words: moderation, reasonableness, kindness, forbearance, and in the Greek, leniency. Interestingly, the Greek translation also uses the word garrisoning rather than guard in the final sentence of the verse. Those two words grabbed hold, saying, “Pay attention!” They challenged me to rethink the verse’s possible meanings.
I don’t think I am so very different from my Christ-siblings. I think we all tend to protect our inner cores out of fear of the unknown or from past experience. When we do that, we often hold at arm’s length with words or actions our equally frightened sisters and brothers. We stay separate from each other. While we defend our tender places, we focus inward. We are not gently attentive to each other in ways that are forbearing or kind. And we have little understanding that the sister or brother across from us is working just as hard as we are to care for her or his tender place as well.
Perhaps, this passage calls us to be a bit more “lenient” with each other’s fears and evasions, as we learn to live in community – with our families, our friends, our coworkers, and our church family. Perhaps it also reminds us to rely more on God to “garrison” those parts of us that really do need protecting. Perhaps practicing these two ideas — leniency and God-garrisoning – could move us worriers and fear-filled Christ-siblings more firmly into that peace which passes all understanding.
So, I think I’ll sit with the idea that God will garrison whatever tender part I believe I need protected, if I just ask with thankfulness — and try to give my brothers and sisters in Christ a bit more leeway to be fully human, too.
Mother-God, you hold us close to your breast and wrap your angel wings tight around us no matter how old we grow. Help us to honestly share the peace and love you so freely give to us with each other, through a kind word, a gentle touch, a listening ear, a helping hand or a hug. Amen.