Gentle Erosion

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17–18 NIV)

One of the unique benefits of living within a short drive of the California coast is the ability to take day trips to the beach. California’s central coast isn’t particularly warm, even if it’s sunny. But the beauty of the coastline outweighs the fickle weather and is usually still well worth the trip. Unfortunately, during my most recent excursion to Half Moon Bay, California was experiencing stormy weather and record rainfall.

I’ve always been fascinated with waves. The tide feels like such a mystery that exerts a powerful influence on our planet, shaping the shores and carving the landscapes of the coastline. Yet, at the same time, it’s the place we retreat to when our weary souls are looking for rest. The gentle ocean breeze we long for is the same wind that dances with the tides, each influencing the strength of the other. Witnessing the authority of the stormy sea was a reminder of what unhinged energy looks like.

We each have a circle of influence. People we’re in close relationships with, churches we lead, colleagues we work alongside, children we parent, spouses we live with, Twitter followers who appreciate our hot takes, etc. And in each of our circles, we have the opportunity to steward our influence well. Perhaps the difference between power and humility is the same as we see between a strong, eroding current and a soft, shaping tide. Erosion is often the result of violent and abrasive force. It may change the way something looks, but it usually leaves much damage that needs repairing. Shaping is a gentle, refining tide, one that forms and corrects softly.

In his book The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, Dallas Willard expresses that the way we interact with others, even in issues of faith and truth, holds significance: “The means of our communication needs to be gentle because gentleness also characterizes the subject of our communication. What we are seeking to defend or explain is Jesus himself, who is a gentle, loving shepherd. If we are not gentle in how we present the good news, how will people encounter the gentle and loving Messiah we want to point to?”

I’m part of a generation where many of us who grew up in religious spaces are “deconstructing” our faith. I know the negative connotations associated with the movement. I’m also one who has done the work of some significant untangling of my faith from power, politics, and other things I felt were hindering me from really understanding the beauty of Christ’s love for my neighbors and me. Some of the stories I’ve heard from friends my age and younger highlight an imbalance between what they were taught about Christ’s perfect, gentle love for his children and a brand of piercing shame that aimed more at controlling behavior than producing people who were compelled to follow in God’s perfect way.

Our approach to matters of faith has a reverberating effect that, if not stewarded with the heart of Christ, can cause lasting damage. Is the story of Jesus good news to those who hear about God’s expectations but don’t hear about his love?

I think our current cultural moment begs us to ask, “Do we believe God is at work in the world and the power of the truth we hold in our hearts is enough that we don’t need to supplement his gentle spirit with our own harsher one?” There is much to disagree about, but can we do so in a way that honors our faith? If we reduce ourselves to using insults to defend our Christian principles, is that actually defending Christian principles?

As James writes, we will reap a worthy harvest when we sow seeds of faith in conscientious wisdom.

And maybe if we extend the spirit of Christ’s gentleness to ourselves, we too can be transformed in a way that is more able to give that gift freely to others. After all, the fruit of the Spirit isn’t just about our public demonstrations of faith but about how the Spirit demonstrates love for us. We get to rest in the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control of the Spirit. It’s okay to lay our weapons down.

Sarah Sciarini is the director of Communications for First Baptist Church in Lodi, California, and NorCal NAB. She’s is also a part of EYELET working to elevate the voices of younger leaders in the NAB.