“Mom, why do turtles have shells?”
My preschooler draped herself across the sofa, seemingly inert and bored, but truly thinking about the great mysteries of the world.
“The shell keeps their soft body safe and protected.”
“Oh. Okay, mom.”
So far, so good. Her questions simple, her mind and heart trusting and easily satisfied by easy answers.
My middle daughter was never so quick to accept and move on. A conversation with her could go something like this:
“Mom, why do turtles have shells?”
“To protect their soft bodies from harm.”
“Why are they in danger and need protection?”
“Other animals might try to catch and eat them, or they might be stepped on or run over…”
“Why do some animals like to eat turtles?
“Some animals are herbivores and eat only plants and some are carnivores and eat meat. Turtles are meat.”
“Why do animals eat other animals?”
“Because after the fall in the garden of Eden, one of the curses was the destruction of the peace between animals in the animal kingdom and now some animals would be food and others would eat other animals.”
Falling back on theology or “because God said so” became my frequent defensive position.
This curiosity about the world, I love. This exploring and questioning and wondering “what if” and “how come”–while it occasionally makes me explode and bluster out “because God made it that way” or “because I said”– ultimately I appreciate.
Ultimately I understand.
Because I’m a questioner, too. I want to know “why” and “how come” and “what about” and “why not?” I want to pester God with question after question like a three-year-old first discovering the world around her.
More than that, more than asking God true and honest questions, I nag and whine and push and nudge.
Oh, and it’s even more than that. I’ve been Jacob up all night wrestling the angel of the Lord. I’ve locked my grip with God’s and fought hard for what I thought constituted a blessing, for a victory, for triumph over circumstances and over the Enemy who’s been battering at the walls of my life.
Yes, I’ve pummeled the chest of Christ with my fists, fighting and demanding, manipulating even, making promises, issuing threats, and crying for mercy, help, deliverance—for rescue.
I’m being honest with Him, I tell myself, and honesty is something God treasures in us. He never asks us to fake it or play happy-faced Christian when life is a mess and this mask we wear becomes increasingly ill-fitting.
God desires truth. Job, Habakkuk, David, Asaph, Elijah, Jonah, Mary and Martha laid their complaints before God, plead their case, and He listened and answered with awe-inspiring mercy.
He didn’t strike them down with lightning. He let them empty out hearts filled with fear, hurt and anger and then He answered, not always in the way they expected or wanted, but still He met them in the place of pain and questioning and carried them on out.
Now, though, I’ve been studying the fruit of the Spirit and found I didn’t really get it before.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23, NIV).
Gentleness is on that list. All those years of sermons and Sunday school lessons and I thought this meant “being nice, not hurting others with our words, kindness and tact.”
The Message translation however, describes gentleness as: “not needing to force our way in life.”
In Living Beyond Yourself: Exploring the Fruit of the Spirit, Beth Moore defines the root word here “praotes” as “the complete surrender to God’s will and way in your life. The term basically means to stop fighting God” (p. 178).
Gentleness is submission to God, His will and His way, His plan and His timing and all He has determined for us.
It means dropping to our knees and pouring out the honest struggles of our heart, but deciding at last, “Not my will, but yours be done.”
It’s singing with true conviction, “Have Thine own way, Lord,” and “I surrender all.”
No more fighting God.
How then can I still be honest with Him? How can a prize-fighter like me lower the hands and open the fists, cease fighting and nagging and choose instead to trust?
Does this require me to be fake after all?
There is my answer in the verse itself, “but the fruit of the Spirit is…” not the fruit of my own discipline or maturity, strength or ability.
This is what the Spirit at work and alive within me does—the impossible, the new, the Christ-like—As I yield and grow in the Spirit, so slowly I trust more, believe more, fall in love with Jesus more and understand how much He loves me more.
And I stop fighting Him.
I drop the knee, I bow the head, I cry the tear, I confess the pain, I trust my God and the Spirit works out Gentleness in me.
Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader. Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness. Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013! To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.
Copyright © 2012 Heather King