How to Practice Biblical Gentleness When You’re Feeling Reactive.

Haley Bodine | November 14, 2023

 Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m not known for keeping things quiet or mild. I laugh loudly, I speak my thoughts with conviction, I feel deeply, and when I get sad or angry, I get very sad or angry. Technically I have auburn hair, but I come from a long line of strong-willed, red-headed women, and the most ironic Christmas carol we sing when I visit my family at Christmas is “Silent Night.” 

So what a relief it is to know that Biblical gentleness does not mean a lack of passion or volume! This last Sunday, Pastor Dave shared that the Greek word for “gentleness” is prautes, which means strength and power under control. Gentleness is strength used for the good of others and the glory of God. 

I want to be gentle. I want to be someone who has convictions and a backbone, that can speak intelligently and calmly but without compromising the message, whether it’s in a blog, on a stage, in my everyday interactions in any number or situations, or simply at the dinner table with my children. I’d like to think that most of the time, I am reasonably gentle, but I can pretty accurately predict when I will struggle with reactivity: 

  • When I am experiencing increased levels of stress
  • When I need to sleep 
  • When I am overstimulated

Any of these three, and certainly any combination of them, sends my nervous system into survival mode that has very little bandwidth for thinking before speaking (or, as it may sadly be, shouting). 

But as I have tried to grow healthier and stronger in allowing Jesus to take the reins of my heart and mind, I’m learning a few practices that help me to settle into a space that, more often than not, allows me to respond with gentleness even when circumstances around me threaten to send me over the edge. 

  1. Stop 

The practice of the pause. When I feel the rage or reactivity swell up in me, the best thing I can do is to stop in my tracks. Take a big (slow) breath and remove myself from the situation if at all possible. Stopping allows me to acknowledge what my body feels (increased heart rate, quicker breathing, clenched fists, etc.), and then explore with curiosity why I feel so worked up over the situation. Once I identify the what and the true why, then I can begin moving toward healthy (and gentle) solutions. 

  1. Be Still 

Most of the time, if I am tempted to react aggressively rather than respond gently, I am overstimulated, and my body simply needs to be still. Again, removing myself from a situation to a still, quiet place enables me to regulate. Nature is a great place to do this. (Pro-tip: scrolling on your phone will NOT help you settle down or bring any clarity to your thinking. Still your mind and your body, and put away your phone.) 

  1. Be silent

I continue to learn over and over again that it is better to be silent and delay communication than to react explosively and need to clean up a mess later. Be silent until you can be gentle. 

  1. Speak Slowly 

When you are calm enough to speak with intentionality, speak slowly. I know when I face a situation that requires intentionality, speaking slowly helps me manage any new flare-ups of anger or frustration that could potentially cause communication to break down. 

  1. Prioritize Love 

This is probably the most important thing to help me personally. When I stop, pursue stillness, and am silent, I will ask God to give me a heart that understands His love for me, His love for people, and a heart that loves like Him. Out of love for my maker, I want to love the people He has made really, really well. Sometimes I’ll consider the question, “What will I regret most in this situation?” and then I’ll paint a picture in my mind of the best version of my response—a rehearsal of sorts. 

This week, you will likely face moments of stress or frustration, situations where you may be tempted to power up and react. I encourage you to purposefully and proactively prepare to stop—-pause, consider what you are experiencing and why, and then move to a posture of controlled strength that builds instead of breaks.