Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sunday School - fruit of the Spirit - gentleness

Gentleness n. - soft and mild; not harsh or stern or severe; having or showing a kindly or tender nature; quiet and soothing.

We had a very ungentle lesson about gentleness! Very unpeachlike (a peach was chosen as our fruit-of-the-week for its softness).

Our example of gentleness was Jesus, who said:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28-30
Jesus could have entered Jerusalem on a war-horse and claimed kingship with the help of legions of angels, but came "gentle and riding on a donkey," an animal of peace (Zech. 9:9). He blessed children, spoke tenderly to the sick, and welcomed the humble in heart. He suffered silently when he was insulted, whipped and nailed to a cross, and called his followers to do the same.

In our Sunday School class, heavily weighted with boys, I discovered the truth of what Jerry Bridges says about the unpopularity of gentleness:

We pray for patience, we pray for love, we pray for purity and self-control. But who of us ever prays for the grace of gentleness? ... I suspect that of all the character traits of godliness, gentleness will be the least appealing to many male readers. For some reasons we seem to have difficulty believing that manliness and gentleness can be part of the same personality. Men often want to see gentleness in their mothers and wives, but not in themselves. The macho image of the non-Christian male world has a tendency to rub off, even on us.*
Our boys thought "meek" meant "weak," and wanted to be "strong" rather than "gentle." They didn't realise that gentleness is born of power rather than weakness, and true strength clothes itself in gentleness.

To keep things interesting, I invented a game called "King of the World." Each child received an envelope with a question printed on the outside, like "If you were the king of the world, how would you travel?" Inside each envelope was a verse about Jesus. Here's how our discussion went:

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what would you do to someone who hit you, or tried to kill you?
    A. Gleeful suggestions involving machine gun fire, atomic bombs, and spaceships with assorted alien weaponry.

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what kind of followers would you want?
    A. Gangsters (with torture chambers), armies full of soldiers, robots to turn my enemies into pancakes so I can eat them.

    Q. If you were the king of the world, what would you do if snotty little children / pesky crowds bothered you?
    A. Shoot them, drop bombs on them, tell them to get lost.
You get the idea.

Which caused much laughter, and should have been a marvellous lead-in to my teaching about Jesus and gentleness, except reading out lots of verses wasn't the way to go! Too long and wordy.

If I was to teach this lesson again, I would choose 4-6 significant examples of gentleness during the life of Jesus - his rules for his followers, his treatment of children and sick people, the entry into Jerusalem, his death for us - and showed the children a picture of each (a set of those felt figures would have been nice!) as we talked about how they showed gentleness.

But the children did enjoy making critters out of pom-poms, pipe-cleaners, felt pieces and goggly eyes. Although the boys were a little disgusted to discover the creatures had to be "gentle"! I think they would have preferred claws and fangs dripping with blood.

While they worked, we talked about whether Jesus is weak or strong (they agreed he was strong, so at least he's a hero to them!) and about how it takes strength to be gentle (not sure they got that one, but I tried).

So here's an idea for this week, especially for those guys amongst you who think gentleness is effeminate. Read a gospel, and look at the ways Jesus is tough on the self-righteous, but gentle in speech and act towards the weak and sinful. Perhaps we, too, will learn to "be completely humble and gentle; ... patient, bearing with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2).

* Jerry Bridges, The Fruitful Life, pp.141, 148


Honoria said...

This is a wonderful series and so edifying... Even for kids!

A friend called gentleness: power harnessed for the good of the other.

I liked how you brought out that Jesus had both strength and meekness for the boys.

Jean said...

Excellent quote from said friend - took a minute (actually a few days) for its meaning to sink in - my brain is foggy with a cold.

Jean said...

I'm posting this on behalf of Rachael, who's having trouble with her internet connection:

I had a similar experience when teaching the fruit of the spirit to a children’s club about 13 years ago! Gentleness sticks in my memory as being very difficult to teach, and very abstract. I remember one child saying “it’s when you pat a dog, you don’t kick it”, and I thought that was helpful (not sufficient, but helpful) because we don’t pat dogs instead of kicking them because we are weaker than they or because we are afraid of them. It’s not a sign of weakness.

Sarah G. said...

Thanks for the good ideas on gentleness. I'm teaching the fruits of the Spirit to 3rd & 4th graders and am having a somewhat difficult time finding good material, especially on gentleness. I also have a class of mainly boys, so it should be interesting! Thanks again.

Lowell Herschberger said...