Gentle and Quiet, Honest and Brave

Free Happy Woman Enjoying Nature. Beauty Girl Outdoor.According to the Apostle Peter, a woman’s beauty is supposed to be most evident in her gentle and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4), this prescription from a man whose aggravating and endearing outspokenness was a key quality of his personality. Jesus Himself showed us that one person can, without sin, be both bold and humble. In trying to capture a similar combination, modern theorists have come up with the term “assertive” as a midpoint between “passive” and “aggressive.” But the word has been applied to everything from requesting a well-deserved raise to the latest political brawl. How can Christians decide whether assertiveness, which often means voicing one’s opinion, concurs with Peter’s prescription? Can assertiveness and quietness coexist?

If you read my last post, then you understand there are ways in which a caricature of meekness can be harmful to human relationships. A gentle and quiet spirit cannot mean extinguishing God-given gifts or an attitude of deceitfulness or a birthplace for bitterness. It does mean, from the Hebrew, an unpretentious and settled spirit. So let us consider a description of biblical assertiveness which includes humility and honesty, leaving room for the dignity, passion and courage which Scripture also promotes.

Biblical assertiveness is:

…a quality of the mind. In the Bible this aspect of assertiveness is generally called wisdom, but it is also referred to as assurance or confidence. This is not a confidence in some quality of self but in the eternal connection of our soul to the King of Everything. When we understand our worth as determined by God alone, we neither need to hide our light under a basket nor crow with self-centered pride. Wisdom takes joy in knowing what kind of instrument God has crafted – so that you can play the trumpet you are, for example, rather than the harp you thought you were supposed to be. Jesus’ wisdom grew from intimate knowledge of His Father and of the role He had been given. Cultivate this wisdom through deep familiarity with Scripture, seeking God in prayer and making a real effort to understand and appreciate the unique and beautiful ways you have been shaped for His use. (Here is a free resource to help you.)

…a quality of the heart. Jesus displayed every human emotion from temptation to grief to compassion to anger. The psalms teach us that all those emotions can be directed toward God in worship. When we accept our feelings as part of God’s image in us, we can express them in ways that honor Him and promote good in the world. Every feeling has a good purpose as well as a destructive dark side. For example, anger, the one most people fear, is meant to motivate us to change things, to right wrongs or protect the weak. Jesus got angry when His Father’s house was desecrated and when the unsuspecting were led astray. Jesus wasn’t afraid of His own heart. He took care of it, seeking solitude, allowing Himself tears and surrounding Himself with family and friends. When we accept our own emotions as He did and learn to express them appropriately, others will feel more comfortable with us and with themselves. They may even know God better. Get to know your own heart through close attention and journaling, and cultivate at least a few relationships which are safe and encouraging places to express it, including your relationship with God.

…and a quality of the will. The will is the seat of actions and choices. Much false meekness, the kind that makes people uncomfortable (see previous post), comes from misguided choices of the will. Refusing to acknowledge real emotions or real truths, declining to speak because of guilt or fear, is not Peter’s settled spirit. To speak the truth in love (i.e., to speak the truth in relationship) is a Biblical admonition. We do not speak from a motive of anger or punishment or self-protection but out of the assurance that we have submitted ourselves to Christ first and are loving others well with our words. Making godly choices means knowing God’s values and our own. Jesus did not answer every question put to Him, meet all others’ expectations or hesitate to reveal unpleasant truths when necessary to honor His Father. He knew when to remain quiet and when to use His voice. Our will, like His, enables us to control our responses and actions rather than having them control us. When you feel emotional, consider how God might want to use that – and when and where and with whom. When you have something to say, ask Jesus to give you bold and loving words.

A gentle and quiet spirit is not agitated or abrasive, but it may be funny or convincing or brave. A person with this attribute exhibits confidence without arrogance, born from a sense of identity rooted in the love and acceptance of the King of Everything. A person at peace imparts that sense of tranquility to others. I know a gentle and quiet spirit when I find one because I am at peace in her presence. I neither need to protect her nor read hidden signals for her mood or preferences. She is able to say what is true, to own what is real and to do what is right – without nagging or contention or guilt or defensiveness. Because, at the end of the day, she looks into the face of her Beloved, and no other, for approval. It took Peter a long time to learn what that meant for his own life. I don’t expect we’ll get it overnight, either.

Related Material:

Faith and Assertiveness by Blaine Smith

Gracefully Assertive by Chelsea Cote

Why It’s Good to Be Bold by Liz Curtis Higgs

Assertiveness, Please!

Golden Retriever dog on his back“Assertiveness” is a catch-all word, used to describe everything from a frantic yelling match to asking your waiter for a drink refill. It was appropriated by popular psychology in the 1970’s to fit in a box between aggression and passivity, but I think it’s an especially hard word for Christians to understand given the Biblical mandates to submission and meekness. Assertiveness can be an excuse for prideful or selfish behavior, but it can also mean discovering and living out of your God-given identity. A follow-up post will give some practical examples of what that looks like, but first, I want to promote the need for assertiveness by demonstrating the hidden flaws of false humility.

In order to do that, let us fix in our minds a caricature of femininity, an uncomfortable extreme of Peter’s “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4), the shrinking violet, the fainting southern belle, Shakespeare’s soulless Ophelia. Gentle and quiet, perhaps, but also a person who takes some emotional energy to love. Oftentimes we cannot quite put our finger on the source of our discomfort when we are with her, but consider these possibilities.

When she demurs, others must take care of her. We all have that friend who never has an opinion or will never express it. In the first case, she really does not know her own thoughts, and in the second, she is unwilling to voice them. While she may believe she is giving others the gift of deciding (which IS a gift when it is occasional and conscious), she is also handing others a greater burden. Not only do they have to guess at her preferences, but she is sending silent signals that she needs to be taken care of – in the present decision and many others ahead.

When she grovels, she implies that others are unkind. Picture a woman who constantly apologizes – for accidents and normal needs – who never asks for the bathroom or a hug and who catalogs all the reasons she is inconveniencing others. She has judged herself wanting (most likely she had outside help coming to that conclusion), and she finds relief in calling it out before anyone else can. However, there is the tacit implication that others have also judged her, that others are impatiently waiting for that apology, that they begrudge her presence, that others are critical and mean-spirited.

When she checks and rechecks, she presumes that others are dishonest. When a friend insists on taking her home (so she won’t have to walk 5 miles uphill in a rainstorm) our Shrinking Violet will ask, “Are you sure?” five or six times in ten minutes. While she has a ‘take care of me’ vibe, she is going to fight it every step of the way, making everyone else’s job even harder. In addition, she is implying that others are not honest people, agreeing to what they don’t approve and doing what they secretly resent.

When she doesn’t get what she wants, she sulks. People who don’t voice their needs and desires still have them, consciously or unconsciously. Unmet, those desires can turn into bitterness if they are held against others or depression if they are turned against self. When I forego my need out of love for Christ and others, it is worship, but when I become morose or angry as a result, that tells me I did not really do it for Him.

When she is anxious, so is everyone else. Anxiety is often the root of inhibited behavior. While I don’t believe that anxiety is in itself sinful, unrecognized and untreated anxiety is harmful to relationships. A person who is not at peace with themselves or the world communicates their agitation and uncertainty to others.

I am not talking about the person who calculates and manipulates consciously and passive aggressively, though they may share some of the characteristics above. The person I am describing has no conscious intention of hurting anyone. They would rather blend into the Personnel Change or Anonymous Businesswallpaper and attract no notice at all. They are in pain and acting out of that pain. I used to be one of them, and I still struggle with asking for (or even discerning) what I need sometimes. My purpose in pointing out the hardships involved in having a friendship with this person is to convince all of us that basic assertiveness is necessary and loving. Only in being and expressing our true selves can we have genuine, intimate, give-and-take relationships which honor the image of God in ourselves and others. Only then can we be peacemakers and confidence-builders in a world of anxiety. Indeed, the Bible calls us not only to humility but at times to boldness and to positive action. If you recognized yourself in any of the descriptions above, please begin talking about that with someone you trust. In my next post, I’ll discuss some theoretical and practical remedies for anxious inhibition which conform to Biblical norms, so stay tuned!