Tag Archive | having good character

Reader request: having a gentle and quiet spirit

              Today I am addressing a question from one of my readers, Theresa, on how to conduct oneself as a “quiet and gentle spirit.” The phrase “quiet and gentle spirit” is taken from I Peter 3, an epistle from one of Jesus’s disciples turned apostle, Peter, to the early Christians. It is important to look at context when defining a biblical phrase, so I’ve included verses 1-6 below:

              “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (I Peter 3:1-6, ESV). [emphasis mine]

              So we can see from the passage above that the admonishment for a woman to have a gentle and quiet spirit is in the context of a wife interacting with her husband. Beyond a blanket mandate that a woman submit to her husband, Peter is advising Christian women on how they can influence their unbelieving husbands to become followers of Christ. He wisely puts emphasis on her heart attitude rather than external moves to convince her husband of the change God has made in her life. He is not advising against a woman’s wearing hair braids, precious metals/jewelry, or certain clothing, as I have heard this passage preached out of context, but instead he is giving those particular examples as what she should not do in an attempt to convince her husband to become a Christian as she is. Truly, I have heard of women who became believers and used their newfound faith to bring about many external changes into their lives, often dragging unwilling and confused husbands alongside them. Though following Jesus does bring noticeable differences in one’s lifestyle, Peter is reminding women here that converting their husbands cannot and should not be done through external lifestyle changes, either hers or her attempts to change him.

              Perhaps you already knew the context of your phrase in the question, Theresa, but I’m sharing it for the benefit of all the readers. Also, I don’t know most of my readers’ experience regarding the “one believing spouse, one unbelieving spouse” situation. Some of what I have heard is from preaching and most is anecdotal (not personal). But it seems in my experience the most common thing for a believing wife to do is to annoy, badger, insult, or attempt to force her husband to participate in her religious practices with her, sometimes very “sweetly” and “nicely.” And usually she has what I’m sure are the sincerest intentions, but in the end she does not abide by the Scripture’s instruction to be a character example and instead relies on taking actions to evoke change. And it nearly always leads to resent and conflict, from what I’ve heard.

              So how does a Christian wife influence her unbelieving husband to possibly win him to Christ? According to the apostle Peter, by “be[ing] subject to [their] husbands,” having “respectful and pure conduct,” and adorning her “heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” That’s it. No nagging him or telling him everything he’s doing wrong, no making comments about how much better she is. No shaming him for not attending church with her. No arguing about how to raise the kids. Even if he was to hand down a mandate that she absolutely could not speak of her religious faith in the house or in front of the children at all, which I have never heard of actually happening, there are ways to display the goodness (and God-ness) in her heart by her behavior. So this actually gets to the crux of your question, Theresa: ways a woman can display that gentle and quiet spirit.

              The spirit shines through in all of one’s interactions so having a quiet and gentle spirit will influence every aspect of behavior from speech to body language to facial expression. It manifests itself in a sweet smile, a soft touch, respectful eye contact, straight posture, quiet and unhurried breathing, flowing movements. It is as if a river of tranquility flows through her body. The quiet and gentle spirited woman will not humph or grump, roll eyes, speak sharply or shrilly, handle roughly, slump over or breathe heavily. More importantly, she will not treat her husband harshly or unkindly. She will not pick a fight nor return antagonistic behavior. She will respect his opinions and viewpoints, showing kindness indiscriminately. And I truly believe that such strong character may indeed make a difference for Christ where forced church attendance may not.

              On a side note, dear readers, if any of you are of the Christian faith or any other faith and are considering marriage, I strongly advise you to pick someone of your own faith if you think it will be an issue for you to have an unbelieving spouse. I had this friend in high school with whom I have lost contact. She was raised Christian but lived according to society’s normal standards for awhile. She lived with a man and then married him, but after two years they got divorced. The last time I saw her the divorce came up and I expressed sadness for her. She replied, “Oh, K. wasn’t a Christian, and I kept asking and asking him to become one, but after two years he didn’t, so I divorced him.” It left me flabbergasted! Truly, if my friend had felt that differences in faith might ever become an issue in their married life, she should not have ever entered the marriage in the first place. I believe that Peter’s passage is likely speaking to women in marriages where both were originally unbelievers and the women became Christians after they were married. So that’s different than willingly entering an interfaith marriage. Another anecdote: I had an acquaintance from church when I was a teenager, a Christian woman who fell in love with a Muslim man. He assured her that the differences in faith would be no issue and treated her with the utmost respect and love before marriage, but as soon as they were married he began abusing her (emotionally and mentally) and refused to consummate the marriage and allow her to have children until she converted to Islam. After two years of hell she was finally able to divorce and escape the situation. I am not trying to be judgmental; if you’re in a respectful interfaith marriage I applaud you and I do not like to ever give opinions on whether anyone should divorce. But again, if you are unmarried and you feel strongly about your faith I would encourage you to talk to a potential spouse about it before marrying. It may save you both, and any future children, a lot of heartache.

              Thank you for your question, Theresa, and thank you for reading the well bred woman in progress!

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Living well without manipulating

               Being well bred is not about creating, seeking out, or living in an environment in which others treat us properly.   So much of what I read online puts the responsibility on the individual to create their world.   Think about phrases such as “Create the life of your dreams,” “Surround yourself with those who appreciate you,” “Don’t associate with haters”– and the overall message that if you act a certain way you will command respect.   I have been researching corset wearing lately for shaping up purposes after discovering that I have diastasis recti (I had four kids in five years);   I was surprised to see a line stating that wearing corsets increases one’s posture and poise, which can therefore elicit greater respect and attention from those around the wearer.

               Reading all of this, being bombarded by it every day, especially by those of us who enjoy self-improvement blogs and reading, it’s hard not to come away with the impression that much of what happens to us is controlled by us.   Another reason that it’s hard for me to let go of that concept is that I was raised in legalistic religious settings for most of my youth, and I heard preaching that lifestyle choices were directly linked to outcomes that I know now happen randomly to people across the globe.

               But the truth is simply this:   being well bred (or living a refined life, living holistically, living mindfully and joyfully, or whatever one’s goal is in pursuing the well bred lifestyle) does not involve creating circumstances, either directly or indirectly, that coincide with one’s values.   Of course, one should create circumstances that meet one’s needs;   be it moving into or out of a housing situation, picking the best job or career, eating and dressing a certain way, reading this or watching that on television, etc.   Everyone has control over some aspects of life, if we take the time to figure out what they are.   Beyond that, we have control over our response to what happens to us.

               To be more specific, I have gotten the impression from reading various etiquette, well breeding, and gentility websites and books that the polite people of the world need to attempt to instill politeness everywhere, similar to how anti-smoking activists have mostly eliminated smoking in public places and restaurants.   Some of these politeness pioneers only insist it be done gently and subtly, leading by example;   others will go so far as to consider themselves the voice meant to caution a stranger’s disruptive child, to lecture a rude customer in line in front of them, etc.   I believe that such people have good intent.   It’s not that I don’t think what they’re doing will work, though I am sure that leading by example is more effective than lecturing or jumping into another family’s disciplinary issue.   But my point is that although we do lead by example, for better or for worse, our motive should not be trying to create a happier, more self-serving (for indeed it would be) world that teems with gracious, polite, well adjusted people who both appreciate our efforts to be well bred and reciprocate with their own best intentions.   We should live as well bred as possible based on our knowledge and capabilities;   however, to do so out of a desire, ever so subtle or well meaning, to change others or elicit different reactions is misguided and futile.   That is because there will always be at least one person that won’t reciprocate, can’t appreciate the efforts, and simply won’t care.   They won’t care how tall and straight your corset makes your stand;   your soft words will only infuriate them more;   they’ll think your well manicured appearance is an attempt to show off or one up.   In my opinion, it seems the number of sociopaths and narcissists is skyrocketing in the United States today, and in my short existence I have seen many reactions that simply did not make sense based on the “If I act properly, I’ll elicit a favorable response” logic.

               I feel this subject urgently needs to be discussed because there is so much opinion to the contrary, that living this way or doing that thing will “win friends, influence people, command respect, earn yourself a job promotion.”   I even see job promotions, greater influence, higher pay, and a happier existence promoted as the effects of having a personal style or color analysis done.   While I would love to have a personal image analysis–I’ve already picked out this creative stylist for when I save up the funds–I want it for myself—for the pleasure I derive from fine form, beautiful symmetry, and coordinating colors in my best hues.   Dressing as mindfully as possible would make me feel happy and better about myself.   I have already noticed a marked difference in the behavior of those around me when I wear my best colors;   in public, people often rush to open the door for me or offer to assist me.   But I don’t do it, nor do I believe I should do it, to manipulate other people.   I have been reading a lot lately on psychology and the effects people have on each other (Quiet by Susan Cain is a must read), and I keep going back to the Bible’s frequent descriptions of people as sheep (1 2 3).   Manipulating people is easy;   so easy, in fact, that most of us do it every day either unwittingly or with the best intentions.   But to behave in any way in order to elicit positive responses from others is manipulation and should not be one’s reason for acting well bred.

               To sum up, we cannot, nor should we try, to control the circumstances around us in order to create a more genteel life.   We cannot teach every rude person how to respond better to us;   no amount of dressing well will ensure we’re always treated like the Queen;   a soft answer doesn’t always turn away wrath;   and there are so many narcissists on the loose that I have considered becoming a hermit.   We should always do what lines up with our principles and act in a way that enriches our own lives;   responding graciously to a rude person enables us to sleep well at night and teaches our children a valuable character lesson;   dressing well elevates our mood and reduces stress;   soft words spoken in the heat of the moment will need no taking back.   We will probably influence many others for good, but there are those that will not be changed and it isn’t our responsibility to try changing them.   It’s time to take the burden for other’s behavior off ourselves, my friends;   a life well lived in line with your principles is your legacy to the world, not your obligation.