By Simon Presland
Few words seem as ugly, destructive, and painful as cancer. Gentleness, on the other hand, is a beautiful word, conjuring up images of a soft breeze, a lamb, or a newborn baby.
The world of cancer is never gentle. And a gentle world would be devoid of cancer. Can these two opposing worlds coexist? Surprisingly, they can. I found this out through the lives of my good friends, Maurice and Maisey. They underwent a two-year ordeal because of a fast growing lymphoma on Maisey’s upper spinal canal.
Today, there are no signs of cancer activity in her body; but while she was in the throes of the disease, Maurice learned to care for her with ever-deepening love. As this 80-year-old couple engaged in their battle, Maurice sent out periodic e-mails to his prayer group filled with reflection and concern, emotion and insight. Here are some things I’ve learned from Maurice and Maisey about gentleness, often an overlooked aspect of the Spirit’s fruit.
While some people have a temperament that predisposes them to gentleness, Christians understand gentleness as a product of God’s work in our lives. Gentleness is included among the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22, 23. What does the fruit of the Spirit mean? When we yield to the words and direction of the Holy Spirit, he produces the characteristics or “fruit” that he desires to exhibit in us. Paul made an appeal to the Corinthian church based on “the humility and gentleness of Christ“ (2 Corinthians 10:1), signifying that it is Christ in him—and by extension in us—who is the source of gentleness.
Gentleness can be pictured in our minds. When we hear, “The child was as gentle as a lamb,” we imagine a sweet, innocent toddler. The statement, “A mother’s touch is soft and gentle,” conjures up the image of a caressing hand.
Gentleness can also be seen in our lives. In Philippians 4:5, Paul exhorts us, “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.” Others can detect gentleness in us through our tone of voice or the tenderness of our actions.
Contrary to what we wish would happen, God doesn’t simply “speak a word over us” and we become gentle. As with all the fruit of the Spirit, God produces gentleness in our lives through circumstances and situations, through trials and tribulations.
Characteristics of Gentleness
When we are under pressure, gentleness is not a natural attribute. However, in Colossians 3:12 Paul pleads with us to clothe ourselves with (to exhibit in our attitudes and actions) gentleness. How do we clothe ourselves with this godly trait? We must display at least three characteristics: humility, gratitude, and submission. My friend Maurice revealed each of these in his e-mails to his prayer group.
“Beyond the usual side effects of nausea, loss of hair, fatigue, and so on, Maisey struggles with the uncertainty of the treatments, the loss of control over her body, her home, and her life. Pray for a spiritual adviser who can help her find answers to her questions. For me, I need someone who has been down this road, who can help me dig deeper into the foundations of faith.”
Maurice wrote those words in his first e-mail. It is a humbling task to be vulnerable and ask for prayer. It is even more humbling for a man to admit he doesn’t have answers to his wife’s questions. Maurice’s words exhibit a gentle cry for intercession. They acknowledge that God is his ultimate source for wisdom and guidance.
The ugliness of cancer could have caused him to rail against his Creator: “Why did you let this happen? We have served you our entire lives; is this how you repay us?” Instead, in the humility of gentleness, he petitioned others to intercede for Maisey and him.
There were moments when they questioned God and even got angry with him, but those bouts were short-lived. Instead, they focused their energies on the battle they faced. They humbly acknowledged that without God’s strength, wisdom, and understanding they could not fight and they could not win.
“Gentleness doesn’t use anger to fight with,” Maisey told me. “It is the opposite of harshness; and who were we to be harsh toward God?”
These are powerful words from a gentle woman.
“Don’t let our smiles deceive you; there have been tears and pain in our cancer journey. The valley has been dark at times, and at times we still argue due to the frustration we feel over the unknown. But our gratitude for your praying and your caring continues to grow, and hardly a day passes without a card or a call, an e-mail or a visit from you, our dear friends.”
Maurice and Maisey have always been grateful to God. As missionaries in the Middle East, they were thankful God chose them to help build his kingdom through preaching and teaching the gospel and making disciples, while working in a school and in churches. Yet their battle with cancer forced them to feel raw and unpleasant emotions.
“I used to stuff my anger and resentment,” says Maurice. “They were not godly traits and I was being very religious by not displaying them. But our battle with cancer forced me to face my negative emotions and to deal openly and honestly with them.”
As Maurice learned, gentleness and gratitude go together. “God [forced me to face myself] and gently dealt with my weaknesses and infirmities, as his Word says. How could I not be grateful to my heavenly Father for dealing with me this way? God showed me how to have a heart of gratitude through the trials of cancer and even more so now that we are on the other side of the battle.”
“Last week, Maisey asked me to sit in with her spiritual adviser. He directed us to the opening verses in John 14, about trusting God and trusting Jesus while he prepares the bridal suite for us in his Father’s house. I believe God can be trusted, but am I ready to follow my Jesus all the way in our journey?”
What does it mean to trust God? What does it mean to follow him all the way? As Maurice and Maisey found out, trusting and following are integral parts of submitting to the perfect will of God. Although God’s Word speaks of healing for his children, there was no guarantee that his will for their lives included healing Maisey.
Throughout the Bible, countless people submitted their lives to the will of God only to experience disaster. Jesus submitted to his father’s will and it cost him his life on earth. The prophet Jeremiah submitted to God’s will by proclaiming God’s judgment on the Israelites, and he was thrown into a cistern (Jeremiah 38:6). Submitting to God doesn’t necessarily mean a life of happiness or of getting everything we want. But it does lead to inner peace and contentment, because submission means that we can echo Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Submitting to God includes trusting in and believing the promises contained in his Word, but it also gives room for God to determine the path in life we are to follow. No matter what we go through in life, good or bad, submission means we will follow God.
Their battle with cancer showed Maurice and Maisey that God can truly be trusted. As they submitted their lives to God’s will, they both grew gentler toward each other in word and deed.
Any battle we face takes its toll on us, and Maurice and Maisey are physically weaker from their fight. Yet they are stronger too: stronger in faith and in trust. They have learned to live each day in humility, gratitude, and submission to God.
Psalm 18:35 says, “Thou hast also given me the shield of thy salvation: and thy right hand hath holden me up, and thy gentleness hath made me great” (King James Version). Maurice and Maisey may not consider themselves great people. But the fruit of God’s Spirit, gentleness, is evident in their lives. And that makes them great in God’s kingdom.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Teaching Children About Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control
Daniel and His Faithful Friends
(Standard Publishing, 2012)
by Jennifer Holder
Faithfulness Bible Story Puzzles
by Enelle Eder
(Carson-Dellosa Publishing, 2008)
The Case of the Lost Temper: A Lesson in Self-Control (Veggie Tales Series)
By Doug Peterson
Think Before You Act: Learning about Self-Discipline and Self-Control (Character Builders Series)
by Regina Burch
(Creative Teaching Press, 2002)
VeggieTales: Growing Faithful Kids!
(Big Idea, 2010)
Fruits of the Spirit
(Rising Star Studios, 2011)