Each day I pray for my children, a specific virtue for each. Well, for Mini-Me, I have been praying for gentleness. She is a lovely girl, full of life, an independent and free spirit, but she can be very harsh with others (read: siblings) and with herself, both in her tone and actions. She is so very much like me. “Let’s get down to business, people. I don’t have time for your crap.”
One morning it hit me: I’m praying these virtues for my children, and they are all things that need to be strengthened in my life, too. Mini-Me will not become gentle unless I model it for her. And how can I model it for her if I am not gentle with myself? I can pretend and pretend, but unless I first become gentle with myself, I will never pass on that oh-so-important virtue to my daughter. As type A, high-strung women, gentleness is a struggle. I tend to see the mess, the job, the to-do list before the person. “Oh I ran you over? Try moving out of my way next time!”
Let’s see what my friend Sirach has to say about this: “If a man is mean to himself, to whom will he be generous? He will not enjoy his own riches. No one is meaner than the man who is grudging to himself…My son, treat yourself well, according to your means” (14.5, 6, 11). Too often, we as Christians feel that we must be so incredibly hard on ourselves (or maybe it’s just me); that mercy and gentleness were meant for everyone except us. How wrong. The Church developed the saying Nemo potest dare quod non habet. You cannot give what you do not have. (I think my confessor has said this to me about a million times.) We cannot give mercy unless we have mercy. We cannot give forgiveness unless we have forgiveness. We cannot give gentleness unless we have gentleness. And we do not have _____ (insert virtue here) if we cannot practice with ourselves.
Can gentleness with ourselves be taken too far? Lead to self-indulgence, making excuses for poor behavior? Sure can! All vices are virtues that have been twisted, disordered. I’m definitely not a pro at this gentleness thing. My first inclination is to steamroll anyone who gets in the way of my “tasks.” Like, right now the Little Soldier is driving a lego motorcycle through my hair and I want to toss him out the window so I can finish this blog post and work on dinner. But our Lord’s grace is working on my heart, and I keep the Blessed Mother as my role model. Virgin of all virgins! To thy shelter take us; Gentlest of the gentle, Chaste and gentle make us.