Those people who know me will know that I’m a bit of a geek (don’t judge). I love Star Wars, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and building LEGO sets of both (or anything else for that matter). Part of this geekiness was indulged recently when my wife and I sat down and watched the first two movies in The Hobbit trilogy for the first time (again, don’t judge). For those who don’t know the storyline, in an extremely simplified nutshell the movies are about a hobbit being roped-in by a wizard to help some dwarves reclaim their mountain home from a dragon. In order to get into the mountain to take a magical stone from the dragon the wizard gives the dwarves a key, but in order to find the lock and use the key the dwarves have to be in a specific place at a specific time on a specific day or they won’t find the keyhole. I’ll let you watch the movies (or read the book) to find out the rest.
Thinking about this later, I couldn’t help but think that sometimes this is what it feels like trying to live out our purpose and have a positive impact into the lives of others. Sometimes it feels like if the stars don’t perfectly align we will miss out, or that maybe we already did because we couldn’t find the magic keyhole to open the doors of opportunity. Whilst I’m a big believer in everything having its time and season, I also believe that our character plays a part in these opportunities arising. If we just sit around and wait for things to happen, we’re going to be waiting a long time. But if we’re willing to develop our character and put it into practice then opportunities will come. The last two character traits listed in the Fruit of the Spirit, gentleness and self-control, are keys which will open doors for us to make a difference when those opportunities arise.
I think gentleness is often underrated. In a world where everything needs to happen now, and where there is a focus on being assertive to get your needs met, traits like gentleness get thrown out the window. Gentleness is often seen as weakness or timidity, but in fact being gentle is showing the strength of restraint. Gentleness shows calmness in the face of demand, and respect in the face of hurt. Gentleness gives us the ability to sit by someone and just be present, not forcing ourselves or our perspectives onto them, but allowing them the opportunity to tell us what they need and what will be the most help to them. Gentleness doesn’t demand, but leaves an open door. Gentleness sits respectfully when someone is hurting and allows them to grieve and process things in the way that works best for them, whilst still offering support and guidance when needed. People who have gentleness in their character will be seen as safe by others and this will open the doors for them to have a positive impact.
Self-control is part of gentleness, but it is also something more. Self-control is often seen as the ability to simply show restraint, but I believe that this only shows part of what self-control is about. Self-control is also the ability to act in a disciplined way. Self-control means that when someone asks for help we don’t dive in and take over, but work with them to get through the issue. And self-control means that the next time that person needs help, or we see someone else in a similar situation, we don’t take it on ourselves to act without permission, but allow ourselves to be guided by the needs and wishes of the person involved. Having said that, there are also times when someone’s safety is at risk where self-control gives us the ability to be appropriately assertive to ensure that people are safe. Like gentleness, self-control opens doors because people feel safe and comfortable to seek the help and support they need because they know that they will be treated with respect. And when we are self-controlled, we don’t get caught up in the rush or the stress which means we are better able to see opportunities when they appear.
In the same way that the dwarves had to be in a certain place at a certain time to unlock their mountain, it can be easy to feel like our opportunities to make a difference and have a positive impact are largely created by the situations around us rather than anything within ourselves. We can come to believe that we can’t live out our purpose or make a difference because the timing isn’t right, or we’re just too busy, or something is getting in the way. But when we develop gentleness and self-control into our character we will see the opportunities when they are there and we will be someone who people feel safe and comfortable to allow into places where we can make a positive impact.