A Gentle AND Quiet Spirit?

by Anna Blanch on June 23, 2008

What does it mean to have a “quiet and gentle spirit?” This is a phrase from 1 Peter 3. As someone who is an extrovert and who can be very outgoing to the point of being a little overwhelming (even scary – so I’ve been told) it is an idea, a way of being, I’ve been thinking about for a few years. Even if you don’t accept the foundational premise, that this is an idea founded in a belief in the creation of man and woman by God, bear with me – some of the ideas I discuss are going to sound radical to a post-feminist audience.

1 Peter 3:3-4 says 3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” This is really about my relationship with God – which will be reflected in my demeanor, my speech, my relationships with others, a peace and a contentment in my soul.

Some writing by author Carolyn Mahaney, quoted in Joy’s Blog assures me about what a gentle and quiet spirit isn’t –

“it isn’t a certain personality type, or the tone of your voice (loud or quiet). You can have a quiet personality and not have a gentle and quiet spirit. Or, you can have an “effervescent” personality and still have a gentle and quiet spirit (yes!). Here’s the definition of a gentle and quiet spirit Carolyn Mahaney gives as meant in the Greek:

A gentle and quiet spirit is an inner disposition of humble contentment and quiet tranquility rooted in an unwavering trust in God and His purpose.

She further breaks it down into a simple definition:

A gentle and quiet spirit is a steadfast peace because of a steadfast trust in God.”

I see great beauty in this way of being. My struggle is in trying to reconcile a way of relating to the world with a totally different way of being. To choose peacefulness; to choose contentment rather than restlessness; to choose to see the good in my life now. I find myself struggling with my own drive and striving to achieve. This striving is about finding my place in the world as a single woman who feels like she needs to make sure she can independently support herself – to find assurance in her successes and reassertion of her capability to take care of herself because no one else is.

I have been reading and re-reading the first part of Peter 3. It has struck me anew how powerful this passage is.

Peter 3

1Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, 2when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. 3Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. 5For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

I went back and read some of the OT passages on Sarah’s submission to Abraham. It struck me that though she made some mistakes (like suggesting to Abraham that he have a child with Hagar – which wasn’t such a brilliant idea in hindsight) she was submissive and supported Abraham even when he was making some colossal mistakes of his own – pretending Sarah was his sister almost led to her being married off to a King… I guess my honest reaction to this is – how can Sarah not say something, how can she stay silent even when he is obviously not thinking of the big picture. But part of me wonders whether or not this is really about me feeling that if I was Sarah I wouldn’t have any control and I guess I like not feeling helpless when I can help it. I guess part of being submissive is really about trust – In giving up that agency and trusting in my husband I empower him – by saying that I am here and I am capable, but I choose to trust that you will seek to do what it is my interest, because you love me – and because that is the promise a husband makes. When a wife makes a promise to submit she makes a promise to choose not to need to be the one leading, and the husband promises to step up to the plate and take the responsibility proactively for you both. What an incredible gift and bond those promises entail.

7Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.

Vulnerability like submission have become four letter words – unnecessarily and unfortunately – but understandably in a fallen world. What can be empowering becomes oppressive, what should be freeing becomes imprisoning.

8Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. 9Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10For, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. 11He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”[a] 13Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?

This is about a positive attitude of seeing God’s hand in all things, People on the other hand are not so certain. Those closest to you will not harm you if you are eager to do good – but I have no such faith in the world at large….and I do not think this is unreasonable. The crux of these statements is about not seeking out strife or conflict – but you know that it will still happen even if you do not seek trouble out! My sense is that my desire needs to be to trust in God’s sovereign plan and to find comfort in my vulnerability and softness. It is this softness that empowers me to be compassionate. To feel is to be insightful about how others are feeling.

I also found this Commentary on the passage by Barnes. It is from the 19th century – and seems to be a little antiquated on an initial read but as I read it for the third time I realized there are some traits that I aspire to.

“… Of a calm temper; a contented mind; a heart free from passion, pride, envy, and irritability; a soul not subject to the agitations and vexations of those who live for fashion, and who seek to be distinguished for external adorning…Many a man cannot tell the difference between diamonds: and cut-glass, or paste in the form of diamonds; and few are such connoisseurs in the matter of female ornaments as to appreciate at all the difference in the quality or colour of silks, and shawls, and laces, which might appear so important to a female eye. The fact is, that those personal ornaments which to females appear of so much value, are much less regarded and prized by men than they often suppose…But a man has a real interest in what constitutes the ornaments of the heart. His happiness, in his intercourse with his wife, depends on these. He knows what is denoted by a kind temper; by gentle words; by a placid brow; by a modest and patient spirit; by a heart that is calm in trouble, and that is affectionate and pure; by freedom from irritability, fretfulness, and impatience; and he can fully appreciate the value of these things. No professional skill is necessary to qualify him to see their worth; and no acquired tact in discrimination is requisite to enable him to estimate them according to their full value. A wife, therefore, if she would permanently please her husband, should seek the adorning of the soul rather than the body; the ornament of the heart, rather than gold and jewels. The one can never be a substitute for the other; and whatever outward decorations she may have, unless she have a gentleness of spirit, a calmness of temper, a benevolence and purity of soul, and a cultivation of mind that her husband can love, she cannot calculate on his permanent affection.” – Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament

Part of me wonders whether this is really possible for me? I had always thought that the passionate intensity that I have for life was a positive trait. Is it? I think the definition of passion here is different to a modern definition – I think this is talking about irrationality. This isn’t talking about becoming hard, but for me I guess I am not really sure how to find the middle ground between being an unemotional, controlled, shell and my emotional intensity. I am overcompensating for something. This is only part of where I went early this morning. It I am trying to work out how this practically works for me….how do I reconcile all that God has given me and the drive I feel is from him to serve him – to answer the call and respond to the challenge “to those that much has been given much will be expected” with a gentler way of being? Even as I write that I ask myself why I think reconciling them is hard…. But part of me obviously does find it hard. What does this transformed me look like practically?

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