Bold Gentleness

Under the fluorescent light, I was organizing stacks of new pots, toilet bowl brushes, can openers, laundry baskets, blankets, and a motley of household goods. Pillows periodically tumbled when I shifted a box underneath. Today, I expected quite a few people to come and gather items for their new apartments.

Refugee families new to central Ohio, new to America, were setting up homes. While none of these items could truly make a home for them, they would dignify and support them as they began this long process.

Normally I was thanked with profuse graciousness, which always felt awkward because I felt the donors deserved the thanks, I was simply a conduit. They thanked me even when it was too little for their family of eight, sometimes shaking my hand with energized gratitude, or hugging me with embraces meant for family.

But today, the unusual broke in. She strode, swathed in regal red and orange, a glint of gold thread at the edges. I could imagine hurrying courtiers rushing behind her, ears sensitive for her newest whim. She was loud and harsh, like a screaming scarlet macaw, and demanded certain things.

Unfortunately, those certain things were certainly for someone else. Her dark eyes flashed under skinny eyebrows like angled wings as she bellowed at me in a rush of arguing syllables. She wanted it all, and she believed she deserved it all, so she began to take it all. I attempted to explain those were intended for someone else, but she picked them up and started walking away.

Round the corner ahead came her caseworker, my coworker, who sized up the situation quickly. They exchanged rapid words, unintelligible to me, both equally valiantly stating their points. In a huff, she released her extra goods and walked away continuing to proclaim her fury.

Boldness is adolescent courage. It’s brash, awkward, and sometimes rude. But then again, it’s sometimes breathtaking and inspiring. Desire births both boldness and courage, for they both have no purpose without it. Without desire, what reason is there to be daring or courageous? But that is not all that’s needed to truly be bold.

Usually, refugees came because they desired dishes and sheets for their new homes, and believed we would give them what we could. The scarlet mama came with the same desire but believed we couldn’t or wouldn’t give her what she wanted so she had to take it. This is how boldness and courage flash powerfully out into the open: it is where desire and belief marry into extravagant action.

Rightly surrendered to Jesus, our extravagant actions born of desire and belief will appear in shocking ways: prayers for healing, forgiving rather than taking vengeance, showing kindness to enemies, not fretting when we see the greedy success of others as our own paychecks pinch. It is bold to live a gentle life, to say, “No, I am not going to fight to prove I’m right or better, I’m not going to hoard and pinch. I will be generous and satisfied, I will be self-controlled and trust God to care for me, I will care for my neighbor even when that means sacrifice for me and isn’t convenient.”

As Jesus purifies our desires, and our beliefs align with his great goodness, the bravery of a meek life sends fissures through the power structures of this world. He desired his Father’s glory and for us to live abundantly. He believed his Father loved him and was in control. So he meekly went to the cross, and in so doing, boldly toppled Satan and overcame the world.

I think of Martin Luther King Jr. and those who refused the power of violence as folly, instead wielding the weapon of audacious love boldly. They demonstrated peacefully, not mockingly or condescendingly or violently. Their intrepid hearts, born of the desire for justice and righteousness for all, persevered and became an international inspiration for justice and righteousness.

I think of Paul who faced the constant dangers of first-century travel, the hostile crowds and courts of the Roman Empire, in order to share the joy of Jesus with anyone along the way.

These are the meek that Jesus blessed when he said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5) The meek whose extravagant action was to stand for justice in the face of violence, to press through persecution without retaliation as they let their gentleness be evident to all, even their enemies (Phil. 4:5) so that all would know.

But when our desires or beliefs are not surrendered, or remain unexamined, or even unknown, then boldness becomes a slap in the face, courage becomes foolish. We sadly laugh at the antics of people who wish to show their bravado by doing something dangerous. Their desire is for acclaim and approval, to prove they are worthy. They do not yet understand their own worth to care for themselves, they do not yet grasp the deep love that God already regards them with and that the very desire driving their behavior is what can drive them into his loving arms. We are all at varying degrees of knowing this, and so we are at varying degrees of bravery.

Reflection, repentance, and restoration can whittle the edges off boldness to reveal the fine arc of a courageous heart. And a courage refined can exercise boldness in precise and purposeful ways, unlocking potential and hope for everyone.

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Kimberley Mulder is a contemplative at heart who deeply enjoys the company of Jesus in the day-to-day of caring for her family of 5 (plus a dog and a cat), teaching English to immigrants, growing her garden, and writing. Currently, her walk with Jesus is taking her more deeply into writing as she leads a spiritual formation group at her church, and shares on her blog Living a Mary Life in a Martha World.  She treasures the truth that God’s Word does not go back to him without accomplishing the purpose for which he sent it, and that that Word is embodied in our lives. (Isaiah 55:11)

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