As part of getting my new year off to a good start and incorporating health into my lifestyle, I re-joined the tennis club, Sportplex, in New Winsdor last week. In January of 2009, I signed up at Sportsplex because I wanted to get in better shape and get back to the game that I loved so much throughout my childhood and adulthood, but I had quit playing in 2010 because once I moved to Lagrangeville, the club seemed too far away. I missed it though, and since I couldn’t find a club around here that felt like home, I re-joined Sportsplex.
My first match back, I was playing with my good friend, Sheila. At first, we went back and forth pretty well; I would win on my serve, she on hers. But eventually, she took over and went ahead. I knew that one of the reasons she was beating me was because she’s been playing the last 1 ½ years while I haven’t been, but I immediatley found myself getting mad at myself, getting increasingly intense and agitated, wanting to be better than I was. I started rushing and just made more mistakes. Pretty soon I was yelling at myself via the internal dialogue running through my head.
And then, I stopped. I stopped talking; I stopped running. This was not the attitude I wanted to have while playing tennis. Tennis is supposed to be fun for me, a time to release energy and enjoy myself. But instead, I was engaging in negative self-talk, and taking all the fun out of playing. Just like it sounds, negative self-talk is when we speak to ourselves in harsh and negative ways.
Perhaps you too engage in negative self-talk. We all say things to oursleves like, “I’m not good enough.” Or “ I can’t do anything right.” Or we call oursleves names, like lazy or dummy or stupid. We criticize our bodies that we are too fat, too ugly, too wrinkley… You name it. We all say things meaner to ourselves than we would say to anybody else.
Negative self-talk is the opposite of being gentle and of loving yourself. And it’s crucial that we all love ourselves . First of all because God wants us to love ourselves, and second of all, because the way we treat ourselves is eventually the way we treat others. If you speak to yourself in a negative way, in time, you will hear yourself saying those same things to friends, children, parents, co-workers. Criticizing others because of our own insecurities is a far cry from what Jesus intended when he told us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.”
On the tennis court, when I stopped, the word that immediately came to mind was “gentle.” “Be gentle with yourself, Mandy,” I heard inside my head. “Enjoy this time you have set aside to make yourself a better person.”
I think every one of us could be more gentle with ourselves.
And so, gentleness is on my mind. When I read today’s Scripture from Isaiah,it was obvious to me how God describes his chosen one as gentle. God spoke thorugh the prophet Isaiah, saying about Jesus, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:1-3).
A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench. To me this means that Jesus will not use violence or hostility to get his point across. Christ is gentle in his pursuit of justice, and yet, he won’t quit. He will faithfully bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry or lift up his voice, and yet, the world will hear him.
Jesus is transforming the earth by his gentle ways, winning allegaince to his side, hearts to his cause, and bringing wills in conformance with his own. He doesn’t do this by coersion or condemnation, but by gentleness and love.
We can do the same in our own lives. We can transform ourselves through gentleness, acceptance and love. We can guide others through gentleness, acceptance and love.
Today we celebrate the Bapstim of Jesus. Scripture says, “And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." (Matthew 3:16-17).
And when we think about Jesus baptism, how God’s Spirit descended upon him, not only are we reminded that he is the chsoen one, but how through him, we are also the chosen ones. God’s Spirit descends on us as well as baptizsed Christains, and when that Spirit does descend, we are transformed from the inside out and blessed with the fruits of the Spirit.
Gentleness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, but there are 8 more, and these are qualities that become mainfest in our lives as the Spirit of God comes to dwell in our hearts. The fruits of the Spirit are: Joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. This means that as we come to know Christ in our lives, as we mature as Christians, we become more joyful, loving, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, good, faithful and in control of ourselves.
At different phases on our spiritual journeys, I believe God is cultivating at least one particluar fruit in our lives. Right now, in my life, I believe it is gentleness. I feel like I am being called to be more gentle with myself while playing tennis, while doing my work, while I speak to myself within the confines of my own mind. And I need to learn to be more gentle with others, while listening to them, while speaking with them, while thinking about them within the confines of my own mind. For me, being more gentle means being less judgmental, less pushy and rushed. It means yielding to God and that which is in life.
Right now, God is also culitvating at least one particular fruit of the Spirit in your life as well.
With Jesus baptism, we are called to remember and live into our own baptisms as children of God. On this morning, which is just an ordinary morning and yet precious because it is what we have been given for right now, the Spirit of God descends upon you. I leave you with a final question, what fruit is God bringing forth in your life? Joy, love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control. This is the Spirit’s gift to you. Receive it.