Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath.
I well remember the time this verse saved me. I had taken the kids to a McDonald's PlayPlace (with a jungle theme) after a children's theater performance. The homeschool group's gustatory decision had held sway; my kids wanted to play with their friends! One son was going through a Star Wars phase...and had lost his glasses. The combination created the perfect storm. While in a "hut" he was acting out an epic light saber battle alone...or so his 9 year old, nearly blind self thought.
A 3 year old girl had crawled in to watch this silly boy who was pretending to strike at Sith Lords, but who wouldn't hurt a fly. Her mother, however, didn't know my son and proceeded to start screaming at my son that she would take him out if he touched her daughter, that she knew what jerks men were, and on and on.
I wasn't close enough to realize what was happening, other than to hear screaming, but some of my friends were. They came quickly to let me know and as I walked those few steps the Holy Spirit whispered that verse in my ear. I quietly and calmly got my son out, spoke reassuringly to her very traumatized daughter (traumatized by the mon, I should add), listened to her concerns and calmed her down, gently. She was clearly reacting from a place of deep hurt and fear and a softer gentleness was crucial.
Galatians 5:22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Years ago, I took a Beth Moore Bible study about the fruit of the spirit. I have forgotten most of it, naturally, but I have never forgotten her illustration about gentleness. Like most people, I naturally assumed it referred to a soft gentleness, one with as little pain as possible.
She told a story about her daughter with thick, curly, long locks. Her daughter had dutifully brushed her hair daily...well, most of it. At the nape of her neck a giant tangled ball had formed without her daughter having noticed because the parts she could see looked fine. Having a daughter with such hair myself, I have seen this happen before. It's like a huge dreadlock has formed and it starts to irritate the scalp under it, to pull it, to hurt even.
When Beth became aware of the problem, she gave her daughter a choice: cut it out or work it out? Her tender-headed daughter chose to have her mom try and untangle this giant mess. Beth picked up a comb and started. It was painful. Tears were shed. I don't remember how long it took, but a substantial amount of time was required to restore her hair to its proper disposition.
In this story I see a stronger gentleness, the type that says I will use my own muscle, my own patience, my own time to tease out, smooth out each tangled strand in your life. This is a gentleness that says I know it seems easier to cut out the difficult parts of your life, but I know that if you're willing to go through pain and tears, your life can be restored and when it is, you'll be stronger for having submitted to gentle care.
So how do you know when to give a gentle answer and when to untangle? I believe the answer lies in relationship, in love. I didn't have to love the angry woman to give her a gentle answer that would keep her from trying to hurt me or my child. Beth, however, loved her child enough not to leave her in the state she was in.
As adoptive parents we know this gentleness. We know we can't leave our children in the state they were in, that we must lovingly, with power and conviction and above all gentleness, straighten the tangled messes hiding in places that were inaccessible to them.
Philippians 4:5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.