I took a deep breath and put the book down. Sitting in bed with books and my Bible sprawled around me, the clock neared 5:30am. And even in that earliest of hours I could feel the fire in my belly being stoked by the words on the page.
I was a woman born with a fire in my belly. My parents tell and retell stories of my early childhood. That time when I was two-years old and climbed out the window, up the ladder, and onto the roof where my mother was tying a tarp over the roof under repair as a storm approached. “Hey mom,” my mother always mimics in her loudest two-year old impression. “What ya doing?”
There was also the time when I was playing in our unfinished basement around age seven. This one I remember. In the room with the concrete floors, there were metal posts running to the rafters and my father’s tool bench only a few feet away. I was curious to see if I could climb the metal post, swing on a rope I had tied to the rafters, and land, like Tarzan, on my dad’s tool bench. I did not consider that I tied the rope myself, that the metal post was slippery, or that the best case scenario was that I would land on a pile of sharp metal tools on the other side. Thankfully, I didn’t make it far. As I made my way up the post with the rope secured in my bite, I slipped – ripping out six of my teeth.
Even at an early age, I was always on a mission. If I saw something that piqued my interest, I went after it. I was a go-getter with the best of them, always trying new things, always bold, and always brave. My parents would have you believe that I was the primary reason they kept such good health insurance. And they’d be right.
As I’ve grown, this bold, go-get ‘em spirit hasn’t gone anywhere. I still have a fire in my belly. I’m the woman who questions much of what she hears and researches to get to the bottom of those questions. I’m the woman who conceives of an idea of breakfast and will have made a plan for its completion by noon. If I see a path I want to pursue, I’m more likely to take three steps in any direction than to wait until I find out the best route to take.
It should come as no surprise to you that “gentle” is not a word often used to describe me. “Pit bull on Red Bull”? Yep. “Tiger meat wrapped in barbed wire?” Check. But rarely have I been called gentle. Though I have met women to whom gentleness comes as naturally as baking, I have not stumbled upon either naturally. Gentleness is something I have had to work for, train for, learn about, and seek out. Sometimes I feel as though I’m straddling a line: on the one hand, I like that I’m a bold woman. On the other, I know I need to seek gentleness. And as I straddle this line, I’ve wondered: are the two mutually exclusive? Does being bold mean I can’t also be gentle? Does being gentle mean I will lose my confidence and curiosity?
This is the internal struggle that led me to lower the book that early morning. Once again, in my pursuit of gentleness, I found myself reading a popular Christian book on womanhood. I chose it because it promised to teach me how to be gentle, but somewhere along the lines I noticed that I wasn’t learning about characteristics I should seek, but characteristics that women who want to be gentle should avoid. In so many words, the message of the book was this: If you want to be gentle, avoid being opinionated, don’t assume leadership roles, and defer to those around you. This message, lacking much by way of nuance and freedom, only served to stoke that fire born in my belly.
So I turned to the other side of the spectrum. As a woman who is proud (most of the time) to have leadership skills, I turned to books that aimed to encourage female leaders. I hoped to find some guidance from women who had learned to navigate the dicey paths of leadership while still being kind and generous. What I found was equally disappointing. I was told to speak up, to not care about hurting the feelings of others, to go after what I wanted without concern for others. That sounded as equally unbiblical as the other side of the spectrum, and left me, once again, wondering: can I be both bold and gentle?
Late, as usual, I turned to the Scriptures. Though this should be my knee-jerk reaction, I find that it is only when I find other solutions incomplete that I turn to God’s Word. (side note: let’s work on this, shall we? Let’s work towards being women who take their questions to the Text first. I need to work on that. Join me? That’s all. Carry on.) What I found in the pages of God’s Word is the answer to my question of being bold and being gentle. And the answer surprised me. I was surprised to find that, rather than giving a simple “yes” or “no” answer, that the Word of God reoriented the conversation altogether.
Gentleness is not weakness:
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15). A gentle woman is to be mentally equipped and intellectually ready to make a defense for the hope she has in Christ. We are to use our minds to study His Word and to be articulate enough to voice our very reasonable faith. Christian women are to be smart and brave before those who oppose Christ, and we are to do that while also being gentle. None of these characteristics – brave, smart, strong – preclude gentleness.
When King David reflected on how the Lord rescued him from his enemies, he pens this: “You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your right hand supported me, and your gentleness made me great.” (Psalm 18:36) The Lord, the warrior-God who saved David from those who sought his life, is here praised for His gentleness. David praises the Lord that, through His gentleness, He restored David to his place as King of Israel.
Strength is not gentleness-less:
In the book of Titus, amid a slew of commands for believers, we read that Christians are to, “speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.” (Titus 3:2) When I feel that my strength is being questioned, I am quick to argue or to try to prove myself right. But believers are to avoid having a pre-disposition to arguing (note: the Text does not say that we are not to quarrel, but that we are to avoid it; this is an important distinction). Instead, we are to work as peacemakers through gentleness.
In a passage specifically directed at Church leadership, Paul writes this: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” (2 Timothy 2:24-25) This highest office in the Church is the office of elder, and this position of leadership is primarily concerned with leading God’s people in gentleness. God’s requirements for the leaders of His people is not that they are good at making utilitarian decisions or are able to strongly express themselves without regard for others, but that they be gentle.
In our search to be women who are bold and gentle, we must avoid the pitfalls of either side. We misstep when we try to pursue gentleness by avoiding our God-given leadership abilities, and we misstep when we try to pursue strength by being unkind or ungentle. As women who claim the name of Christ, our leadership should look like His: He is the Shepheard of His people who gently leads us. As strong, brave, and bold women, let us seek today to emulate our God in the way that He leads His people.
He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young. (Isaiah 40:11)