The Surprising Foundation for the Spiritual Life

January 15, 2017

Proverbs 15:1

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”


Are you a gentle person? If not, chances are you are a harsh person.

I never gave much thought to gentleness. About ten years ago my wise friend, Marilyn Elliott, gave me the gift of a book that I am still reading.   It’s a book you’ve never known of from an author you’ve never heard of. It’s hard to even locate a copy. The book is entitled, “Spirituality and the Gentle Life,” by Father Adrian VanKaam. The late Fr. VanKaam, a Roman Catholic Priest, gave his life to pioneering the science of how human beings are formed and transformed by the Holy Spirit. In the book, he speaks of gentleness as the foundation of the spiritual life, the prerequisite condition for sustained spiritual growth and development. Hear him in his own words:

Gentleness is an attitude of letting be, combined with a patient abiding with myself or with the person, task, or problem God calls me to be involved in. This attitude leads to peace and contentment. The gentle person is more free. He can take himself and the world as they are because he feels free to be himself and to let all things be with the same gentility.

A time long past commonly referred to people as gentlemen or gentle ladies. Gentleness is a disposition or way of being. We see it in people who are at home with themselves, and people who are at home with themselves have a way of helping others be more at home with themselves. Gentleness does not mean “softness.” It is probably more clearly seen in the way one expresses firmness.

Angry people carry harshness. Gentle people carry peace. Truth be told, we are all a mix of both. A little further down in chapter 15 we get this:

“A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” v.8

Gentleness does not mean conflict avoidance. It actually shows up in the way one engages conflict. The best way to tell if I am a gentle person is not so much to observe me in my own conflicts but to watch me in the midst of conflicts between other people. Do I tend to contribute to a conflict by taking a side and escalating it or do I tend to look for ways to defuse the conflict?

Finally, we should remember that gentleness is not a personality trait. It is a fruit of the Spirit. We can’t let ourselves off the hook by saying it’s not our type. It’s actually a part of our calling.


Abba Father, teach me your way of gentleness. Reveal your own gentle bearing toward me. Free me to become more gentle with myself and so treat other people. I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.


1. Who do you think of as being gentle people? Be careful not to mistake passivity for gentleness.

2. What would it look like for me to become more gentle with myself and not so harsh?

3. How might I become mindful to invite the Holy Spirit to bring the fruit of gentleness into my every day life?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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