We enter into a new year. For reasons I don’t fully understand, but feel myself, when a new year comes, somehow the slate of our past is wiped away and before us is a blank slate waiting for new possibilities, new ways to live, better plans and practices to engage in. Sadly, most of these new resolutions are kaput by the end of January, but not always! Sometimes we make commitments and we succeed.
I’m surely not enlightening anyone when I say 2020 was a tough year. Will 2021 be different? The answer is ultimately no … unless … unless we incorporate some new practices into our lives. And I have a suggestion: in Paul’s letter to the church at Galatia, he shares the fruit that is born when we let the Holy Spirit fill our hearts and lead us. He writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23).
Last year there was so much hate, vitriol, and violence. Anger and frustrations boiled over, leading to some pretty dark times for us and our nation. With that in mind, this is the PERFECT time for us as a Christian people to stand up for gentleness, kindness and love.
If we do, it WILL make a difference.
I learned this in a personal way last winter when Ann and I were taking care of our son Andy’s dogs. Andy and Steph have three dogs. One of them is a rescue dog, a Doberman mix. When you first see him, he would make you stop. He’s big and foreboding. But in an instant he would show you that he is nothing but the gentlest of giants.
Now one thing that was frustrating me during our dog sitting time, was, it was November. It was cold and one of Jett’s characteristics is that it takes him forever to go to the bathroom. One afternoon as I was trying to get the dogs to do their business, Huxley (another one of three dogs they own) began barking, which in turn caused our dog, Sweet Pea to join in, and then our other dog Rico, made the barking a trio.
I yelled at Huxley to stop, but he just kept on going. I trapsed through the snow to get to him and when I did, I yelled, “Stop it,” and grabbed his collar. Well, Jett saw this and ran up the back steps in fear. He might be big, but he is very frightened by loud noises and acts of anger. I felt terrible that I scared him. After getting the dogs into the house, I search out Jett. I sat beside him, pet him, spoke gently to him and soon things were fine again
Later that evening, actually early the next morning (3:00 a.m.) I heard Jett running down the steps, which meant he had to go to the bathroom. Of course, I wasn’t happy, but down the stairs I went. Jett met me his tail wagging away. Rather than getting angry this time, I said, “What’s your problem big guy?” put him on the leash and outside we went. It was snowing and we had to walk all the way around the house until he did his duty. After he did, he was so happy and went bounding back inside.
Back in the bedroom, much to my surprise, Jett jumped on the bed and laid down by my feet. When he saw I was looking at him, he slowly crawled up towards me. Once he was able to put his head into my hand he stopped moving up. It was like he was trying to thank me for being so gentle with him. I put my arm around him and slowly pet him. After a while he let out a content growl and I spent the rest of the night sleeping with my arm around him.
The next morning, I felt both saddened by my actions the day before when I scared him and joy-filled over when how I acted differently, just a few hours earlier. I know if I would have been angry and expressed my frustration during our 3 a.m. walk, the events would have played out differently, and I would not have been blessed with our “hug” time. Maybe he would have been shaken up and not done his duty, or maybe he would have come in and snuck away from the angry man. Instead, we were able to share a moment of holy love – forged from patience and gentleness.
Can love and gentleness change our interactions with people, like it did with Jett? Absolutely. So, let’s respond this new year by countering anger, hate and violence, with expressions of the fruit of the Spirit and see what happens.
~ God bless us all in this new year. Dan