When my professor told me I wasn’t participating in discussions enough to earn an A in his literature course that semester, I had an idea. Confessing that my heart stopped beating if I so much as thought about speaking up in class, I told him that if he would just call on me and save me from having to initiate speaking up, I’d know the answer. And if he could please call on me toward the beginning of class so as to get it over with, I’d appreciate it.
So you can imagine why 1 Peter 3:3-4 has long been a comfortable passage for me when I’m studying about femininity:
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”
All throughout college and even into marriage, I imagined I had a naturally “gentle and quiet” spirit and didn’t have to work at it. I could check that box and move on. Oh how I was wrong.
What if there’s more to quiet?
The next semester, before my college speech class would begin at exactly 1:30 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, classmates around me would be chatting, flirting, and laughing. Meanwhile, I would be leaning over my three-ring binder, a curtain of curly hair on each side of my face as I studied my notes or wrote more. Did I need to study my notes? Not necessarily. I just didn’t feel like talking.
To be honest, I don’t feel like talking twenty-seven-plus times a day.
Recently, though, I studied femininity without my checking-the-box mentality. This time, I paid more attention to 1 Peter 3:3-4, and with the help of a concordance discovered the true meaning behind the phrase “gentle and quiet spirit.” It turns out I’ve had it wrong all along.
The original Greek word ἡσύχιος, α, ον means “still” or “steady (settled) due to a divinely inspired inner calmness.”
So Peter isn’t so much exhorting me to indulge my natural tendency to shut my mouth; he’s referring to the need to shut down my worry, fear, and scattered thoughts. I am to exchange the frazzle in my soul for an inner calmness.
In that area, I am not so skilled.
From Quiet to Calm
My junior year of college, I joined a girl’s small group in which we all shared prayer requests each Wednesday afternoon. All of us. Aloud. We’d go around the circle, and I’d nearly faint from anticipation before I could blurt out my bit and look to the next girl imploringly. After several weeks, though, speaking up became easier.
Then, about once a month or so, I’d attend an evening Bible study where fifty or so of us would gather to hear a message before we’d break into small groups to pray together. All of us in turn. Aloud. Interestingly, I found praying aloud infinitely easier. As if remembering Jesus was with me, my ultimate audience, calmed me more than speaking up in front of a group of people. Imagine.
Even more than during those college years, though, marriage has by far challenged my quiet personality the most. Because now another person living in the same space I do needs me to communicate whether the dishwasher is clean or not, what I have planned for Saturday, and, y’know, also what’s on my heart. I am blessed to be married to a patient man who recognizes the shutters coming down on the windows to my soul and repeats the question “what are you really thinking?” as many times as it takes for me to speak up.
As a result, I’ve learned more about speaking up in a year of marriage than I did in all those varied experiences stretched across eight semesters. But when he asks me what I’m thinking, all too often the answer is not “gentle and quiet” thoughts.
Instead, I’m worrying about different stressors: the car in the shop, the clutter on the counter, the hurting family member, the state of the country, the laundry, and my friend’s cryptic Facebook post about her hard day. Even more often than twenty-seven times a day, I forget the “gentle and quiet spirit” I could have in Christ’s strength for worry and toil and needless concerns that don’t deserve brainspace–or, at least, not the amount of anxiety I’m allotting to them.
Years ago in that literature course, my idea may have earned me that A, but I didn’t learn how to break out of my silent comfort zone. I didn’t even know I needed to at the time.
Today is different. I now realize how wrong I used to be about the meaning of “gentle and quiet.” I know I still have a lot of growing to do in this area. Maybe you want to join me?
What might happen, ladies, if instead of assuming that “gentle and quiet” is a restrictive term or that it suits some personalities and not others, we focused less on the quietness of our mouths and more on the peace in our hearts?
If we choose to speak up, speaking peace to our own souls, speaking words of life to others, who would we then open our mouth and speak up for?
Photography: JenniMarie Photography