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gentle and kindAs I said last week, my one little word for 2015 is gentle.

I’ve been choosing a word each year since 2010, when I chose brave and it ended up carrying me through (and inspiring) all sorts of changes. I ordered a silver pendant stamped with it (and a second one when I lost the first one), and I still wear it around my neck, next to my skin.

I’ve chosen other words since then – comfort, shift, attention and most recently, light. But brave has continued to resonate in my life – sometimes whispering, sometimes ringing like a deep gong.

Gentle can sometimes seem like the opposite of brave – it’s soft, unobtrusive, a word that slips in and sits down quietly instead of bursting through the door. But it’s what I need this year.

It has been (I keep saying) a difficult few months to live in this world. The headlines have been worse than usual. This fall brought some wonderful events – notably my trip to Oxford and the birth of my nephew – but it was also stressful. Family illness, a massive work event, and lots of other changes at the office left me exhausted. And honestly, the daily grind of commuting and cooking and church responsibilities – the relentless work of keeping up and taking care – also wore me down. (Not to mention the shouting matches that flare up online over the smallest things.)

Last month, Serenity wrote a post about questions and listening, and Felicity shared the advice she’d been giving her teenage son: “Just be gentle with everyone. Don’t try to be right or say important things. Just be gentle.” When I read that, something deep in me sighed: Yes.

I want to be gentle this year, with myself and other people. In the first case, it mostly means not beating myself up when I don’t live up to my own (often unreasonably high) expectations. In the second, it means listening to what people are saying (and often, to what they’re not saying) before I come back with a sharp-edged quip or a cutting comment. In a world that often values being right (or snarky) over being kind, I want to tip the balance back toward kindness. I want to be a safe place, for others and for myself.

Being gentle – less critical, more gracious – sounds wonderful, but I already know it’s not always easy. So far, it means thinking before I speak – a lot – and keeping a few good words in mind. And sometimes it means scrapping the to-do list, shutting down the Internet and going to bed early. (Because I am so much gentler and kinder when I get enough sleep.)

I had lunch with Carlee recently when I was in Texas, and we talked about our words (past and present) and what they’ve taught us. Several days later, she sent me the graphic at the top of this post. I like how it links my new word with my older word – because I believe they’re two sides of the same coin. This year, I’m working on being both brave and gentle.

Do you have a word for 2015? I’d love to hear about it if you do.

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