Tag Archive | speaking kindly

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!

Refined speech

              One of the hallmarks of a well bred woman is her refined speech. It is one of the foremost identifiers of a woman’s character as even the slightest interaction with someone usually involves talking. I am developing certain habits of speech that I believe contribute to my goal of becoming a well bred woman. Please note that I don’t speak a certain way because I think I’m better than another. I have heard since childhood that I must think I’m better than other people because of this way or that way that I acted. And it is true that I was once more judgmental than I hope I am now. However, I’ve trained myself to stop assuming what others are thinking, and I appreciate the same in turn. The following examples of how I pursue refined speech may be taken as inspiration or confirmation for your own journey as a well bred woman in progress.

              Let’s begin with what refined speech is not: it isn’t a list of little known “fancy” words that you should add to your vocabulary to appear more sophisticated. In the South, we referred to such a fake show as being high-falutin’ (high fuh-LOO-tin’), and truthfully, adding more high-falutin’ words to your vocabulary doesn’t do much more than make you look, well, high-falutin’. Truly refined speech focuses on tactful subtractions and substitutions in one’s words.

              The first category I subtract from my speech is vulgarity, include all words having to do with cursing, swearing, coarseness, or so-called nice or Christian curse words. I am not going to type them here but a quick google search of “Christian curse words” covers the gamut of what I don’t feel comfortable saying (if you must know!).

              This is the part where I feel like it’s hard not to cross into “I’m better than you” territory. All I’m trying to say is that you just don’t have to curse or swear. When I was in college I picked up many bad habits including using curse words. When I got back home around my church and family, I found myself biting my tongue a lot, not realizing how pervasive my little slips had become. When I got married I quit the vulgarity cold turkey, and although I have occasionally allowed myself to speak inappropriately over the last 9 years, I know I don’t have to. I never had to. I always had the tools, as does every woman, to express myself without stooping to vulgarity. There is strength, albeit a quiet one, in having consistent morals that one abides by, even in the circumstances that everyone else would be cursing in. That reminds me of my first natural childbirth eight years ago. My midwife was coaching me through the last painful pushes and she kept telling me how well I was doing. (I was terrified!) She said, “Most people would be swearing by now” and I answered “But–I–don’t–swear!!” And she said, “Well, most people who don’t swear would be swearing by now!”

              If you are unwilling to give up strong language, perhaps you feel you would be defenseless or powerless without your strong words. In my experience women who tend to use vulgarity sparsely but in extreme circumstances do so in the effort to react to the most extreme situation with equal extremity. However, this is still vulgarity, and although many people do appreciate your not sprinkling your speech with the “f” word like rain in a spring garden, when you do say it, you still said it. You went there, and you used harsh, unrefined speech. I feel sad for women who feel like they have to pull out the occasional curse word to really make a point. You don’t. The people who respect you and take your words seriously will respect your refined speech and your restraint in strongly expressing yourself–and there are plenty of creative ways to make a point that don’t involve four letter words and offensive epitaphs.

              Another category I completely avoid are euphemisms for God and Jesus. A euphemism is a more pleasant way of wording a harsher word or phrase, for example saying “passed away” instead of “died.” But in the case of saying God’s name carelessly, any lesser form (“g-sh,” “gee,” etc.) aren’t okay with me. This traces back to my firm Christian upbringing in childhood, but as an adult I still agree with the mindset behind this speech standard.

              Another area I desire to limit is the use of slang words. Of course I can’t think of any examples right now! I use some slang such as “mom,” “dad,” and “kids,” but most often I try to use standard words rather than substandard words. This is the area I think I need the most work in currently.

              Additionally, I am learning to avoid remarks that malign people groups, that is, ethnic groups or religions. Unfortunately growing up in the South I learned some phrases used by people close to me that I didn’t realize were racist at the time. I am not talking about offensive words for people groups (not giving examples) but rather phrases that ended up being racist due to the judgmental, haughty, narrow mindset behind them. For example: “(skin color) neighborhood”; “all (country of origin) are illegals”; “what did you expect from a _(skin color)_ person?” One needn’t look far on the web these days to find oneself criticized by those on the anti-racist bandwagon, and that’s a good thing. Racism needs to be eradicated forever in the US, and it starts with each individual’s speech and actions including mine. As a young child without much exposure to the world and living in an area of predominately one skin color, I honestly believed my authority figures when they made general statements about people’s religious practices or ethnic groups. While thinking critically about other people’s religion is fine, as it’s a personal choice that should involve mental exertion as well as moral justification, general presuppositions based on fear and rumor are not fine. And who can choose which family they were born into? Judging someone for that makes the least sense of all. I began realizing in college that people are just people. What distinguishes us is our character; it’s all we have, and it’s the thing that is most under our control if we choose to control it.

              Besides subtracting the categories of vulgarity, using God’s name in vain, slang, and maligning speech, I am learning to make substitutions in my quest for refined speech. The first area I have really focused on since having children is substituting kindness for callousness or carelessness. We say so much. We give directions, answer questions, place an order, explain ourselves. We have to ask questions and seek directions or explanations. And all of those times that we speak, there are often times that our phrasing, by taking care, can come out kindly instead of unkindly or just plain carelessly. Situations in which to be especially mindful include taking care not to tell someone else how to do their job, taking care not to assume one knows how someone else feels, taking care to offer appreciation for others’ actions and respect for others’ positions, and taking care not to bring up topics one knows are painful for the listener, such as the loss of a child, or an excessive focus on one’s own happiness in an area where the listener has experienced loss.

              The other category I am attempting to substitute is restraint for wordiness. Wordy: using or containing many and usually too many words. Perhaps my readers are chuckling now; my blog posts are usually very long and wordy. But, to paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, if you only knew how many words I edited out of my 2nd and 3rd readings before publishing, you’d give me some credit! I have also had several people over the years, including my husband, reprimand me for talking too much. I am starting to see that truly, people do take you more seriously when you speak less because that gives your words more value. As a caveat, the reason my blog posts are long is that my goal is to over-analyze topics that I find interesting. I realize that the post lengths limit the amount of readership I will likely achieve, but gaining readers isn’t the goal of this blog. Still, I edit for clarity.

              So what about women who don’t practice any or all of the above characteristics of refined speech? Should we stop our ears and shun them? If you’re thinking that’s what I’m thinking, then maybe this is the first post you’ve read on this blog. I hope to have made it clear over the last few years that I hate judging and am not trying to. I also don’t mean to be condescending. A woman may not possess refined speech simply because she doesn’t know better, or she may have never thought how her speech sounds to other people or affects their perception of her (which perception isn’t ours to control, yet…it still happens). Saying a curse word or choosing carelessness over kindness doesn’t indicate a completely bad character. I believe that refined speech comes from an inward gracious, positive character. So for the woman who may speak roughly out of ignorance or inattentiveness, but who has a good heart and seeks good character, I hope the above examples of ways to pursue refinement in one’s speech may help her in her goal. I know I’ve mentioned it in other posts here, but the best transition from an average woman to a well bred woman is from the inside out, not the outside in. Start with pursuit of good character, such as love, courage, and kindness, and refined speech may follow if you wish it!