One of the things I love about my husband is his quiet spirit that doesn't ever seem to strive angrily within him. His gentleness is housed within a masculine frame of strength, a combination that still takes my breath away just as it did in high school when he shoved my head into a trough of ice water while I was bobbing for apples. There wasn't anything particularly gentle about that maneuver, but it's representative of the determination that resides beneath his still waters. He set out to capture my attention, and he got it. The shock of being submerged in that freezing water left me gasping for air, but after recovering I chased him and have never stopped. That particular chase ended with a diving tackle (proud of that), and to this day I'm still attacking him and he's still fighting me off.
But his fight looks different than my fight. His fight involves securing a solid stance with squared-shoulders, then holding his hands up in surrender while inviting me to settle down and play nice. My fight involves leaping around uncontrollably like a scrappy cage fighter gone mad, then throwing wild punches while inviting him to get mean. It's not pretty. Fortunately, I have the best personal trainer in the world, and that trainer is called grace. And because of grace, I am learning to fight with more class. I am learning to approach more cautiously, move more circumspectly, and engage more carefully.
Titus 2. It's a promise, and it's powerful.
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age."
This training of grace that I've been enjoying has called for me to do more than lean against the ropes chewing on thoughts of gospel victory. It has called for me to do more than sit in the corner listening to pep talks about how I'm a winner. There have definitely been times when the ropes and the corner were an important place of recovery for me. Some of those times are represented by moments of failing faith where I only had strength to survive. But the biggest part of my training has called for me to be in the ring, fighting with intention to trust in Christ and to lay claim on the riches that are mine in Him.
This training of grace has been teaching me to resist my pride that begs to prove its own power by wildly beating against the air. It's been teaching me to refuse the bidding of my flesh that promises satisfaction but only inflicts pain. Sometimes I fail miserably and take a hit that knocks me to the ground, but I've been trained not to define success by the defeats of any one round. Most importantly, I've been trained by grace to look away from myself and to fix my eyes on Jesus, the one who has privileged me to fight.
In God's sovereign perfection, He designs each of us with a personality to be used for His glory. It just so happens that He made me a scrapper. A fighter whose father loved telling her to let her small act tall. I'm so grateful that glorifying God doesn't require the revamping of our God-given personalities to fit into any box of acceptability that man prescribes. I would be toast. Instead, He takes us as He made us and He trains us.
I'm a fighter who enjoys controversy, and there's not much more exciting to me than a good debate. Discussions that leave kinder souls feeling nervous leave me feeling exhilarated. As much as I love my husband's gentle spirit, all that nicey-nice can sometimes leave me feeling restless. It's like there's pent-up fight in me that starts screaming for release. If I'm not careful, I can find myself levying jabs and throwing punches just to get some fur flying. Of course, that inevitably draws this same thoughtful question in the same thoughtful tone with the same thoughtful concern because that's just how sequential accountants who love law and order do things:
Holly, are you trying to pick a fight? Ummmm basically.
How thankful I am that grace has been training me to understand what it means to be a pursuer of peace. My understanding of the vastness of God's sovereign love has grown enough to settle my heart in the midst of provocations that would have previously left me angry and frustrated. My understanding of the wideness of His sovereign mercy has grown enough to calm my spirit in the midst of disappointments that would have previously ruffled my feathers and rattled my cage. Don't get me wrong. I still beat the air, my feathers still ruffle, and my cage still rattles. But my moments of quiet contentment and joyful confidence are present a hundred times more than they were those days when bobbing for apples strangely seemed like a fun thing to do. God is faithful to his Word. His grace is a training grace.
Taking time to study the writings of John Newton has been one of the most profitable exercises in my training in gentleness. John Newton was a man whose passion for truth ran deep, a man who had a reputation for habitual tenderness. I've learned from him, and I especially love the words of wisdom he offered to a friend who was about to criticize a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy.
Before you read those words, I want to encourage you not to give up if you're growing weary with the struggle. Stay in the fight. His grace will train you!
Now. In honor of all scrappy fighters both great and small, let the following excerpt from Newton's letter soak into your heart:
"As to your opponent, I wish that before you set pen to paper against him, and during the whole time you are preparing your answer, you may commend him by earnest prayer to the Lord’s teaching and blessing...The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.
But if you look upon him as an unconverted person in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger. If God, in his sovereign pleasure had so appointed, you might have been as he is now; and he, instead of you, might have been set for the defense of the gospel."