There’s nothing like taking a good long look in the mirror to really see the areas you might be lacking in. These last few weeks, I’ve been doing just that in revisiting Galatians 5:22-23. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” So far, I’ve examined how much love, joy, peace and long-suffering there is in my life and, I hate to admit it, but it’s not as much as I would have hoped. Of course, that should go without saying. Until the day I die, I will always be trying to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, gentle, good, faithful, meek and temperate. And I will succeed on some days better than others. I found, though, that gentleness may be one of the traits I most need to work on. I discovered that, when put to the test, my first response to most people is to be sarcastic and cutting – a far cry from gentleness. I know that I developed my sarcasm as a defense mechanism when I was younger, but the question put before me is, does sarcasm have any place in my life now that I’m an adult? I looked up the definition of sarcasm and found it is defined as “harsh or bitter derision or irony” and a “sneering or cutting remark.” It is derived from the Greek word “sarcasmos”, meaning “to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.” Harsh, bitter, sneering? Tearing flesh? Those are not words that should be used to describe my Christian walk. And yet, I find myself constantly opening my mouth and “tearing flesh”. Some would say, me included before this past week, that sarcasm is harmless fun and a form of humor. In some cases, it can be. Saying “lovely weather” when it’s storming out is sarcasm, and it is harmless sarcasm. The sarcasm I’m referring to is the comment that comes at the expense of another person, even if the person being poked fun at is the speaker of the sarcastic comment. And that leads me to my second revelation this week.
I tend to use sarcasm to put myself down. That has also become a habit that grew out of self-defense in my younger years. I was made fun of, a lot, as a kid, so I learned that if I made fun of myself first, it could lessen the blow and, more importantly, take the fun away from those making fun of me by showing that I wasn’t bothered by the taunts, even if I really had been bothered by them. That has become the way I deal with a lot of things about myself, and I was reminded this week of a speech I heard from someone about the way we internally talk to ourselves. I wish I could remember where I heard the speech and who gave it, so I could give credit where credit is due, but all I can remember is what was said. We are kinder and gentler to strangers than we are to ourselves. We would be hard-pressed to go up to someone and call them fat, or ugly, or stupid. And yet, we would have no problem internally saying that about ourselves. I find that, even though I feel I’m not as gentle to others as I should be, I’m much less gentle to myself. The speaker asked his audience, “If you were standing before yourself as a child, would you say half the things to him or her that you say to yourself as an adult?” The answer for most people would be, of course not. Then he asked why should it be any different for us as adults?
Before people get the wrong idea and think I’m saying that we should ignore our faults, that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is that we need to deal with our shortcomings with the same gentleness we would – or should – use towards others. What would you say to a friend who’s struggling with weight issues? (Hopefully, something encouraging!) Then, if you’re struggling with weight issues, why would you be so much harder on yourself? What would you say to a child who’s having a hard time grasping concepts at school? Then, if you’re having trouble learning something, why would you think less of yourself than you would that child?
While they may seem unrelated, these two revelations are inextricably linked. Being gentle to others is easier when I’m gentle to myself, and vice versa. Will it be easy changing habits that have developed over many years? The cliché “old habits die hard” is a cliché for a reason. But is it possible? Of course it is, especially with God’s help, with whom all things are possible. (Mat. 19:26) Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for a nice, encouraging chat with my inner child…