The True Test
If we desire a simple test of the quality of our spiritual life, a consideration of the tranquility, gentleness and strength with which we deal with the circumstances of our outward life will serve us better than anything that is based on the loftiness of our religious notions, or the fervor of our religious feelings. It is a test that can be applied anywhere and at any time: tranquility, gentleness and strength.
–from The Spiritual Life by Evelyn Underhill
Tranquility, gentleness and strength, these are the true measures of our growth in the Christian life. Tranquility is the ability to accept people and circumstances as they are without spinning, blaming, or excusing; it’s the ability to accept what is as it is, as the time and place to follow the leading of the Spirit. Tranquility is the willingness to find God’s grace and presence in the present moment, and to be at peace. It requires a fixed attention on both the immediate circumstance—the place and people before us, and the ultimate—God’s guidance and grace at work in this moment with those people. Tranquility is both a gift and a discipline that is available to anyone who is willing to surrender self-will to God.
Gentleness is also a matter of self-restraint. It stands in direct opposition to self-expression. When we’re disposed to assert ourselves, stand on our rights, or insist on our own sensibilities, gentleness is that quality that allows us to restrain ourselves and to focus on another’s feelings and needs. Sometimes gentleness is telling the truth and reaching out in love—especially when the other is prickly or hostile. Sometimes gentleness is firmly standing our ground and saying, “no,.” but it always leaves the door open.
In our culture today words like “fierce,” “powerful,” and “strong” are often used together (especially in commercials) in reference to the ability to assert one’s will or achieve one’s goals or to standout from everyone else. But strength in the spiritual sense is more about the ability to restrain the urge to prevail or dominate. It’s always associated with gentleness in Scripture. It is the power to control one’s own self and to be a source of strength for others.
Tranquility, gentleness and strength are the true measure of our spiritual maturity. They are peace, freedom and joy to us, and they are attractive and charming to others. They are protection against the ups and downs of life; they carry us through every change along every path we travel. They protect us from the hostility of others and our own emotional turmoil. Don’t measure yourself by knowledge or fervor or association—it’s so easy for us to lie to ourselves. Disciplined cultivation of these three is at the heart of the Christian life. Jesus’ promises something special to those who do:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid…I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (Jn 14:27; 16:33)
Soli Deo Gloria!