I’m not sure what your default “internal voice” is, but, too often, mine can be fairly harsh. I have spent far too many years held down by shame, beating myself up, ruminating over past sins or mistakes, or setting a bar for myself so unattainable in my mind that I’ve not even begun to take the first steps to reach the goal – because, well – after all, I had set an unattainable goal (which, of course, only led to more shame and feelings of unworthiness and defeat)! Because this has been a familiar struggle in my life, hearing truths of God’s mercy, tenderness, gentleness, and patience to His children feel very much like water to my desperately thirsty soul.
A couple of months ago, I ran across a book about the heart of Jesus that had such genuinely heartfelt and compelling reviews. I didn’t buy it right away, but couldn’t get it out of my mind. Over Christmas break, I finally purchased it and in reading just the first few paragraphs, I was reminded of who Jesus is – to us and for us. In the opening chapter of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers, Dane Ortlund points the reader to the fact that in all of the New Testament, there is only one place where Jesus describes his own heart – and it’s a description so unlike what we humans would naturally and do naturally think of a Holy God, the Creator of the Universe. Jesus says of himself in Matthew 11:29: “I am gentle and lowly in heart.” Expounding on this verse, Mr. Ortlund reminds us that in the Bible, the heart is spoken of in terms of it being the center of a person; it’s what drives or motivates him or her… “It is who we are.” So when Christ describes his heart as being gentle and lowly, we understand this is not a flippant or light-hearted thing being said. We can be fully confident that he is greatly motivated by his gentleness and lowliness; this is the deepest part of him.
I would imagine most of us have a good understanding of what the word “gentle” means. “Lowly” is not so familiar. The author explains that the general use of the original word in the New Testament was not referring to the character trait of humility, but more of the idea of “destitution or being thrust downward by life circumstance.” When Jesus describes his heart as lowly, he is saying that he’s accessible to us – and so much more than accessible; his heart is moved to welcome us to himself and to shower us with his gentleness and kindness.
Mr. Ortlund writes, “For the penitent (or those who will come to him), his heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures. For lowly gentleness is not one way Jesus occasionally acts toward others. Gentleness is who he is. It is his heart.” (emphasis added.)
So, my soul is drinking in again the water of these stunning truths – of Jesus and who he is. I’m reminded again that I am loved and accepted and treated with gentleness, tenderness and compassion. There is no heavy burden laid on me, except the one I place on myself at times.
Thinking on these things lately, I am noticing in new ways when I see this kind of gentleness and lowliness lived out in others around me. Working in the office, at times I get an “up close” view of administration’s and teachers’ dilemmas, frustrations, joys, victories, and celebrations. I see the hours of truly loving deliberation, of thoughtful wrestling with how best to help a student in a particular weakness. I hear the concern for those students who are going through difficult times – whether just an internal personal struggle or whether it’s a family situation that weighs heavily on the heart. It is beautiful to me that decisions are not made quickly or rashly when determining the right next action to lift a particular student up to a higher level in their education or relating. There is genuine concern and a coming alongside a student, taking into consideration as much of the details of their relational life and outside circumstances that might be coming into play during this particular time.
Around campus, I witness teachers putting intentional relational ‘time in’ with students at lunch or recess, not begrudgingly or “to check a box,” but because they want to move toward their students. They are accessible – as Christ is to us – and they find joy in deepening individual relationships with students to build trust and security.
Sometimes, students need a little more one-on-one time with someone in addition to their teacher – one who can listen a bit longer and give them permission to feel hurt, sad, angry, and confused. Mrs. Olwagen, with a gentle and calming spirit, offers this safe accessibility in the midst of a school day that can feel too overwhelming when life has hit hard.
It’s not a cliche for me to say that it’s an honor to get to work with people who live out the gentleness and lowliness of Jesus to students, to each other, and to myself. Working in a place where the staff interacts with others by building up, refusing to be a voice of shame in another’s life, believing the best, being patient in weakness, and meeting needs as they see them, is changing and producing growth in me. I’m so thankful.
The fresh reflection on Jesus and his life displayed in others is leaving me with a new sense. I can no longer afford to let my negative internal voice have the final say. Because, I know that true growth does not normally or easily come in those negative spaces – rather, we flourish in places where we are loved well despite and in our weaknesses and where we are offered gentleness, grace, and patience.
Consider these words: gentle, lowly, tender, long-suffering, patient, compassionate. Whatever word feels like it reaches your deepest need right now, this is the kind of love: this is the very heart Jesus has for all those who will come to him. I can assure you we can’t even begin to imagine the full measure of that love.
“Come to Me, all who are labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30