Saturday, March 29, 2008

Reflections on Meekness: Being Gentler With the Ones We Love

This has been an interesting month, being focused on becoming more meek. I have faced plenty of opportunities to be more gentle, and I have been struck by the following things:

1) Being "gentle" applies to every interpersonal relationship and activity in our lives. As I've mentioned with the other characteristics of perfection, it has become apparent to me that we don't become meek by what we do (acting meekly); we become meek by how we think and feel (which then motivates our actions). I know that might seem like semantics, but it has been an enlightening insight for me.

2) As I said in my initial meekness post, I am naturally kind and generous, but I am not as naturally gentle. Two out of three does not "wholeness" make. If I want to be more meek **than many people**, two out of three might suffice; if I want to be more meek **as I progress toward perfect meekness**, two out of three won't get me there. I need to work on the 1/3 I don't possess naturally.

3) It is much easier for me to be gentle outside my home and my interactions with my children than it is with my daily frustrations at home. Likewise, it is much easier to be gentle with strangers than it is to be gentle in situations where I am interacting with those I love and where I am invested emotionally to a deeper degree. That fascinates me, since it appears to be counter-intuitive. You would think I would be gentler with the ones I love the most, but the opposite is true. Why is that?

4) Two things have struck me this month - relative to both my biological family and my on-line family (those people I have come to love and admire in my blogging spheres).

a) I am more protective of those I love, and the deeper that love is the more strong my protective instincts are. Therefore, I tend to "defend" them more instinctively - which means to act more quickly and reflexively - which means with less pre-thought and consideration and control. In these instances, I allow myself to be acted upon (to respond reactively) more often than when I have time consciously to think about and "choose" my actions (to respond proactively). Iow, when I feel that someone I love and/or admire greatly is being attacked or unfairly accused, I tend to fall back on whatever my "natural" reaction is - which tends not to be as gentle as I want it to be.

b) I have higher expectations of those I love and admire. I want them to be better - to grow - to progress - to be more Christlike. When some stranger does or says something insensitive or mean or even terrible, I don't like it - but I am not invested emotionally as deeply in that person as I am in someone whom I know far better and have served directly. Therefore, I am more able to respond in a gentle fashion - since my expectations were lower at the time. I have found myself on many occasions this month, as I blog at various locations, being able to "step back" and reword my initial comments - often with the explicit statement "as gently as I can say this". That has been encouraging to me.

It is much harder, however, when the insensitive, mean or even terrible thing that is said or done comes from a family member or someone on a blog whom I love and/or admire. My natural reaction is to be disappointed and, by extension, hurt by such words or actions; hence, my natural response is to deflect that disappointment and hurt back to the source - and that is not a naturally gentle action.

I have never understood very well the axiom, "You only hurt the ones you love." I always have thought it was completely wrong and nonsensical, since I know -and know of - plenty of people who hurt those they don't love - often in terrible ways. I think I understand it better at the end of this month.

I think this is more of a terrestrial law, while what I understood previously is more of a telestial law. At the telestial level, people hurt people - with little distinction between those they love and those they don't love. At the terrestrial level, people have learned to not judge and react toward those they don't know; hence, they only hurt those they know - and those they love are those they know the best. (They are the only ones who care about you enough to be hurt by your actions; they are the only ones about whom you care enough to react in a hurtful way.)

At the celestial level, people stop judging those they know and love; they stop projecting their own expectations onto others completely and simply accept them as they are; they respond gently and lovingly because they stop holding others to a false standard those others simply can't live. It seems like such a paradox, since our ultimate focus should be to help others learn and grow, but that service can be given without expectation and pressure and disapproval and condemnation; it can be given gently and with love.

Remember, "reproving betimes with sharpness" has many possible translations, but the one that fits what I believe to be the best model means "telling (a person) that s/he has done wrong immediately but in a manner focused solely on what is wrong" - and it is followed by "when moved upon by the Holy Ghost". I dare say that most of the "reproving" we do, if we have progressed to at least a terrestrial level of meekness, is not done under the prompting of the Holy Ghost - and it probably is not done with a strait and narrow focus solely on the wrong. The insight to determine exactly the wrong that caused the reaction probably is difficult (or impossible) to gain without the guidance of the Holy Ghost, since we still see through our own glasses darkly.

I have been much more aware of my non-gentle reactions this month - both when I have succeeded in quelling them and when I have not done so. It has been interesting to be more aware of a non-gentle reaction that I still was unable to stop even as I was aware of it - and to look back and try to determine if that inability to stop was due to weakness or the prompting of the Holy Ghost. At different times, it has been both. I have a ways to go before I can be wholly, completely finished and developed in meekness, but I have appreciated the opportunity to recognize a weakness I wasn't aware of fully and learn more about what I need to do to make this weak thing become strong.


Mama D said...

You've made progress this month. Just keep working on this as you move on to next month's Christ-like characteristic. Thanks for sharing your insight.

Anonymous said...

Ray, once again, thank you for your insights. There have been so many times lately that I have said something, written something, even thought something where I have looked back and thought to myself that I could have worded that more gently or kindly. Rather than being disappointed with other people I find that I am more disappointed in myself and, at times "reprove myself with sharpness," and I am not always moved upon by the Holy Ghost when I do.

I have thanked you before for defending me in another forum. I will always honor you for that. And I have seen your defense of others and appreciate your comments and, as far as I can see, do not think it has been out of line with your resolution. Keep up the good work. I have learned a lot from you (and Mama D).

Papa D said...

Darrell, I am considering a separate post on how meekness applies to one's view of self - how properly understanding grace and transgression can help me be more meek with myself. I know it's a fine line, but I believe strongly that not understanding this is a part of not fully understanding and internalizing the Atonement.

Thanks for the inspiration to do so in this context.

Papa D said...

I forgot to mention directly how impressed I was with your comment, Darrell. The first paragraph really was profound.

adamf said...

"You would think I would be gentler with the ones I love the most, but the opposite is true. Why is that?"

This is very common, as you point out. Couples can often be in the midst of a heated argument when the phone rings, and can be perfectly polite to a stranger. I don't know the answer to this, but I suspect it may be partly due to familiarity. We have more in the account with loved ones, and know that they aren't going to bolt when we're a little crabby.

Susan M said...

Familiarity breeds the ability to be insensitive, I guess.

It reminds me of the U2 song, "One," where it says "We hurt each other, then we do it again." It's part of loving someone---being vulnerable.

Think about all the pain God, who is the most loving being, must have to deal with.

Jonathan Mahoney said...

You bring up a good point. I can remember when I was a small boy being willing to help out the neighbors for free but wouldn't do a thing for dad without compensation. LoL. Strange thing. It's weird how you tend to treat somebody worse the closer you get to them. Generalization of course, but I feel that way in my life. I'm working on it though. I was away from my family for 3 months and upon return I've magically become nicer to them. Neat. :-P Maybe I matured or something weird. I think my girlfriend was a good influence in that respect though.

Anonymous said...

I am particularly grateful to you Ray for defining celestial behaviour-I'd been wondering about these same things but questioned if these were just excuses for lazy parenting on my part.That feels right when i read it.I'm less resolved about my relationship with my DH.It's harder to let go because I fear the impact of what I judge to be less than adequate parenting,and so I'm harsher than I might be with him than with our children,when I should be at my most gentle.Conundrum.Is there anybody still there who can help me out?

Papa D said...

Anon, I wish I had more to offer, but all I can say is that focusing on it for a month really made a difference for me. When you are dealing with a spouse, I probably would suggest an on-going effort without a set endpoint, but the concept still is the same:

Focus on it yourself, and pray explicitly for help with this exact concern.

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Papa D,I will use this as revelation specific to my circumstance and work on it as you suggest.