Is a Gentle and Quiet Spirit Possible for the Pushy and Loud?

by Anna Blanch on September 13, 2011

What does it mean to have a “quiet and gentle spirit?”

I’ll tell you how this question has often sounded: It’s always sounded like something quietly spoken, compliant, sleek haired girls have and which someone like me (anything but quietly spoken and anything but sleek-haired) is going to find hard, if not impossible!

What i’m asking then, is this: Is a ‘gentle and quiet spirit’ possible for the pushy and loud?

Yes, I do realise that I’m making problematic generalisations with the hair quip. But, it’s always seemed that my difficult to tame curly locks were a bit of a metaphor for the rest of me! take that or leave it, I guess.  Either way, let’s not get side-tracked before we start.

As someone who is an extrovert and who can be very outgoing to the point of being a little overwhelming this phrase from 1 Peter 3 is an idea, a way of being, I’ve been thinking about for a few years with some uncertainty. Trepidation, even. actually, more like defeatism.

It’s one of my “difficult” questions. You know the questions that make people who aren’t like you hesitate, because what they really want to say isn’t what they feel they ought? Because they honestly would love to tell me to get back in my box sometimes or just to “shush” – there’s a lady at church who does occasionally “shushes” me – but also because it’s an area where “the church” imposes cultural ideas that are based neither on tradition nor on the bible to assert a certain kind of passivity. A passivity, I might add, that is contrary to the proactivity of submission and worship.

Bear with me though; some of the ideas I discuss in this post might 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 jewellery 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.”

So what do you do with that?

Let me get a few things clear about what these verses are *not* saying. This isn’t a certain personality type – we’re not all to become robotic stepford wives with a neutral I/E myers-briggs type switch between our shoulder-blades. It isn’t about the tone of your voice or the pace at which you speak, or whether you hold your hands meekly in front of you or gesticulate wildly with excitement. It is just as possible to have a quiet personality and not have a gentle and quiet spirit. I wrote down something I read by Carolyn Mahaney a while ago (sorry for no further citation) that I appreciated.

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.

Man, I feel like a woman.

okay, I know I just quoted Shania Twain. Forgive me, will you?(This is probably why you shouldn’t write down the first thing that comes into your head when you’re blogging.)  </tangent>

This is really about my relationship with God – which will be reflected in my demeanour, my speech, my relationships with others, a peace and a contentment in my soul. Mahaney 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. To choose gentleness but not by pushing down my responses to things so that I merely become passive-aggressive  rather than being transformed.

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 and because I want to know I can. And because I have to.

I had always thought that the passionate intensity that I have for life was a positive trait. Is it? I know that sometimes it is alienating for others; this drive, and constantly willingness to seek, to go further, to ask “what’s next?”  I know my constant challenges and asking questions of others can be frustrating. I’ve especially been struggling with feeling like being my desire and the changes in me that I am more gentle and quieter of spirit has meant feeling like I have a sign on my forehead that says “It’s okay to mess with me!” In some ways my personality hasn’t changed at all, and other ways I do feel like I’m more aware of how my exuberance can affect others.

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 & contented 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? What do you think about this ‘gentle and quiet spirit’ deal? Does it sound oppressive to you?

I’m looking forward to this discussion. I also got quite into this post and it spilled over to another post specifically on the topic of submission which will go up next week!


Image: one of mine from the Gardens of the Rodin museum in Paris. Yes, I did think about the symbolism of an open rose in front of Rodin’s Shades of Adam and the Gates of Hell. To see more of my photos, try Goannatree on facebook.

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  • Joy

    This is tough, and I think especially so because so much is inside where no-one else can see. I think the issue is what is at the heart of the way you express yourself. Are you trying to prove your value to others and make sure they notice you/remember you/respect you/etc? Or are you genuinely passionate about the topic at hand or excited about the circumstance or what God is doing or inviting people to join you? It can all be tangled up together, too, so that parts of your motivation are fine and parts aren't and it's difficult to separate them.

    I love that you tackled this. I have the same struggle, and I'm learning slowly to think a little bit more about what I'm saying and why before giving it voice.

    • Goannatree

      Definitely, Joy! I think you ask good questions and I shall think upon these. I think there is still a sense here where "Children shall be seen and not heard" prioritises certain temperaments and a sense where the temperament of the amiable hostess is not one with her own opinion. I'm wary of cultural standards being syncretisticly co-opted by the church and then rehashed in a rather oppressive way. That's one of the reasons I like your questions!
      I'm certainly slower to speak than I once was and to choose my words carefully and be aware the situation. I have much to learn though!

  • Vicky Beeching

    Such a great post!!

  • Aimee

    Just finished a Bible study discussion with some ADFA OffCads on this passage in 1Peter 3. But they had more issue with the parts on submission and obedience than this verse!

    • Goannatree

      Aimee, I've written a post about the submission aspect of this which will go up next monday. I wanted to think about this in the context of being a single woman. I totally get where those women (i assume they were women, they may not have been) were coming from, especially in the environment of the academy….You'll have to tell me what you think of the post next week!

  • Miss Britt

    Wow. Thought provoking.

    I think getting to that place of inner peace, of gentle and quiet on a soul level, starts by accepting that this is how God made you, focusing on loving who you are rather than taming it.

    Just like we should do with our hair. 🙂

    • Goannatree

      I love it! I really do….that's exactly right. I think i'm at the point of figuring out how to speak this truth into the lives of other women and standing up to the implicit statements of otherwise well-meaning (and not so well-meaning) people.

      Ps: I LOVE my curly hair….

  • Beccabumps

    Love this post!

    My constant prayer for myself (as someone who can be loud, overbearing, quick-talking, opinionated arse) is for wisdom.

    ('arse' was kind of wisely used as a form of hyperbole…!?)

    I am who I was created to be…only incomplete. My completion will merely add on to who I currently am….graciousness alongside passion, acceptance alongside judgement, joy and excitement alongside practical logic…

    Passive aggression (or plain old aggression), for example, is one of those things that I am slowly letting go of, it's a symptom of chosen disquiet or frustration rather than a personality trait.

    Now submission, to enable further growth into that image held before me, that's harder…looking forward to reading your post!! The concept buzzed around my head until it took me on a bizarre exploration of alternative lifestyles.

  • Hannah Mudge

    Such a good post! Like you say, the phrase initially sounds really patronizing, restrictive – definitely a bad thing. And I think it's been co-opted by many church groups to promote a femininity which is based on early 20th century, middle class, Western ideals rather than anything that's actually from God. It was a massive revelation to me when I discovered that 'a good working definition' of 'meekness' as it is written in the Bible is 'strength under control'. These days we always see it as meaning 'a doormat' or 'timid' or 'wet'.

    I think it's really interesting that you say you have struggled with this concept as it relates to finding your way as a single woman. I can say the same as a married woman! 🙂 I am not an extrovert but am basically a very opinionated, talkative introvert. I sometimes struggle with controlling my irritation at people and apparently I can be 'very cutting' (oops!). The issues I am interested in often lead me to get angry and so this whole 'quiet and gentle' thing can be difficult. I mean, it can be difficult for me to see how that ever applies to my personality. When I first got married I really struggled with some of the messages I was getting from the church and Christians books/blogs about the way a woman should act (I have blogged about all this if you're interested). I have struggled with my drive and ambition too, not least because I was once informed that it was 'selfish' and that my husband's drive and ambition and career should come first!

    I like the definition of Mahaney's that you give, although I have to say I'm surprised that it's so positive (not a huge fan, sorry!). It definitely gives a much different perspective on things. I think I have learnt in the past few years that we're made the way we are for a reason. We can let the negative aspects of our personalities rule us, or we can trust in God and His purposes for us and really try to live out our lives using our skills and gifts and NOT trying to suppress them, just being willing to 'modify' and improve where we need to work on something.

    • Goannatree

      Hannah, you've pretty much written the crux of the next two posts in this series! 😉 I completely agree with you about the co-opting of western ideals into the church and then claiming they were there all along when in fact they were twists on the freedom and sheer anachronism of the christian gospel as it applies to Women! I haven't read much mahaney I have to admit so i'm not sure about her usual approach – I was struck by the positivity of this statement, though, and i'm glad it encouraged you (and maybe surprised you some too). I think Christian women could be kinder to each other about some of these issues….although I agree with you wholeheatedly about living out our lives using our God given gifts and skills and being open to the guidance of the spirit it's character shaping work (even if the sandpaper feels a little rough sometimes). I really think this passive-aggression thing needs to be talked about more too! Definitely food for thought ! Thanks so much, Hannah!

      • Hannah Mudge

        She generally takes a fairly hardline complementarian, discouraging university for girls, 'your-place-is-in-the-home', 'courtship'-focused approach, basically. But I did think that statement of hers was encouraging!

        I read a lot of the 'big' US egalitarian-minded blogs and it strikes me how much more of a challenge it must be across the pond when it comes to this ideal placed on women. It is, of course, an issue in the UK too, but it's nowhere near as bad and doesn't cause as much drama!

        • Goannatree

          Very interesting. Yeah, I guess I'm not really ofay with that community of writers, though I did attend a PCA church in Texas where complementarianism was the majority view (excepting that many women there had PhDs so it was actually quite a moderate version). I think the reality is that the complementarian approach is quite radical in much of the US as well – we get a skewed idea sometimes that it's really common. It's a good thing seeing women talk and be intentional about these things. I do wish we weren't so mean to each other about how differently we see things some times, though!

          I'd be really interested in hearing which blogs you read and enjoy on this topic?

  • Beccabumps

    It's interesting…i've never seen 'meekness', as described in the Bible, or submission to be weak, dormatty things – perhaps because i aspire to both but find them hard to practise.

    I know this discussion of being a 'dormat' goes on between women who identify themselves as submissives (in the context of a Dominant/submission power exchange), some scathingly looking down on others for not being feisty or 'brattish' in their submission. It comes full circle with the concept that you can only be a 'good' submissive if you're strong and verbal but control it. The greatest tension being accepting all whilst acknowledging that the 'all' is far from uniform, finding ways to be a nurturing community of great diversity. Sound familiar?

    There's a LOT that needs to be said (done) about women's relationships with each other. Kindness would be a FAB start!

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