“Be gentle,” I told her.
My baby girl was four years old and on her way to show-and-tell day at preschool.
There she sat in the minivan, cradling this tiny wind-up caterpillar toy, purple with polka-dots, in her four-year-old hands. She’d rediscovered it in the toy bin the week before and declared it worthy of a trip to the school to show her classmates.
I had slipped that tiny $1 caterpillar into her stocking two Christamases ago and he was a survivor, more or less intact after all this time with only one missing antenna.
But was he up for the trip to the school? Was he hardy enough to face one four-year-old and her 19 classmates?
I tested him out on our coffee table. Wind, wind, wind and then I let him go. He inched across the wood quickly and my daughter giggled at the sight.
That morning, we had scrambled out to the minivan, and I said it to her because I’m a mom and I have to say certain things, “Be gentle. He will break easily.”
She nodded like I’m such a worrier. Silly mom. As if I didn’t already know that.
I heard that toy buzz, buzz, buzzing during the drive. I heard her tossing that cheap plastic around in her hands.
And then I heard those words: “Oh mom, he broke!”
I refrained from “I told you so” and mom speeches. I chose grace.
We arrived at the school where we gathered up the pieces of her toy and I hoped my English-major brain could figure out the engineering difficulties of a wind-up toy.
Somehow I managed to snap those pieces together. Success! And then I carried him into her classroom and set him on the show-and-tell table.
She flashed me a smile and I knew I’d earned my Super-Mom cape for the day.
Later, she told the whole story to her big sisters: How mom saved the day by fixing him just in time. She paused for dramatic effect and then said, “Really, Mom did that.”
But she left out one little part of the story….how he broke in the first place. How she hadn’t been gentle enough.
This gentleness with others, isn’t it what we leave out so often?
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near (Philippians 4:5 NIV).
We can make excuses about how we’re just “honest” or we “just tell it like it is.” That’s just who we are.
We can assume the worst, lose patience, rage, condescend and degrade into sarcastic mocking when others disagree with us.
Or sometimes we have this way of being gentle to strangers, but that harshness, that short temper, that criticism oozes out to the loved ones sitting at our own dinner table.
Our husbands. Our children. We are their protectors. We should be the healing salve to the hurts, treating wounds with tenderness and grace, overlooking failures, encouraging strengths, applauding efforts.
When we’re hurt, angry, frustrated, impatient, though, we tend to stab where it hurts most, highlighting faults and bruising the same feelings again and again. It’s our self-defense; we wound others when we’re wounded.
Yet, gentleness isn’t a God-request.
It’s not a Holy Spirit suggestion or an option for good days, but something we can ignore on bad days when we’re stressed, tired, overwhelmed, or haven’t slept all night because we are, in fact, moms.
Paul tells us in Colossians that gentleness is the garb of Christ:
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience (Colossians 3:12 NIV).
Gentleness is part of living Christ to the those around us, in our home and out of it. We are to wrap ourselves in gentleness so others see Jesus in us.
“Be gentle. People break easily.”
That’s the message I remind myself as I put that wind-up caterpillar back in the toy bin after his show-and-tell adventure.
A gentle tongue is a tree of life,
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:4 ESV).
The tongue has the power of life and death,
and those who love it will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21 NIV).
The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing (Proverbs 12:18 NIV).
Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (Proverbs 16:24 NIV).