Sweetness does not come naturally to most of us. We tend to react to the hard knocks of life by becoming cold and hard.
Of course women must be tough as nails, but we don’t have to act rough and sharp!
Not only babies and children, but husbands, parents, the elderly, and every person we might meet in the store or at the bank all starve for this very simple ingredient, yet so few of us are willing to bestow it on others. Any woman who understands her role in making the world a more warm place is living up to her full potential.
I realized this when I was about to give birth to my first baby.
I was a soldier in the United States Army, doing that ultimate feminist thing; attempting to compete in a man’s world by subverting everything that made me distinctly female. I had learned to low crawl through mud under barbed wire, shout cadence while marching for miles, and shoot a rifle with accuracy, but I had never been taught how to be sweet and womanly.
Motherly affection was something that was not valued. Kindnesses were bestowed without any show of syrupy emotionalism. I was taught that the sooner I realized just how hard life was, the better off I’d be.
But then I became pregnant, and I was frightened out of my whits! I had no idea what to do with an infant. Whenever I held one belonging to a friend of mine, the little thing would cry pitifully, and I would look on with awe as even the men around me were better at soothing the feelings of this tiny human being.
So, while waiting in the recovery room to hold my baby for the first time, I prayed, and I asked Jesus to teach me how to be a good mother. His first answer to my prayer was to put me in a hospital room next to a Christian mother who knew how to love her baby. It was almost as if she was breathing in his wonderfulness, and it set me free to begin to let out all of the womanly feelings I had bottled up inside of me.
But it didn’t stop there. God has graciously taken these past 34 years of marriage and the mothering of my 15 children and healed those things inside that were cold and hard.
And this is the essence of sweetness; softness. Just as the Lord says in Ezekiel:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh [tender, responsive].
In this wearied world it is hard to imagine what sweetness looks like. It helps me to think about the character of Miss Mellie, Scarlett O’Hara’s foil, in Gone With the Wind.
The Online Dictionary defines sweetness as “
“But it’s just not in me,” and “I can’t be that way all the time,” I hear you saying. I know it seems impossible, but this is the life God has called us to, and it is absolutely possible for those who believe in Jesus because we have the mighty power of the Holy Spirit inside to help overcome our natural selves!
With His mighty power, we can plant the seeds of sweetness and nurture them until they flower and bear fruit. Here are a few ways to go about it:
Put it on.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Part of the reason we fail to show sweetness is because it feels strange or insincere. This is because we are under the false impression that our feelings must rule us.
But if we are believers in Jesus Christ as God in the flesh and the redeemer of our souls, our spirit, the essence of our beings that is eternal, is “born again,” or made new:
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
1 Corinthians 5:17
It is our flesh, our “mind, will, and emotions” that must be renewed, or set in line, with that new creation within us:
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
In other words, we can become sweet even when we don’t feel like it, and as we persist in exhibiting the fruit of the spirit even when we don’t feel like it, our emotions will follow, and, before we know it, it will be absolutely genuine.
I saw this illustrated in the life of one of my daughters. Throughout her teen years she had developed a biting sarcasm and lack of civility, but while attending college she was mentored by an older Christian lady who challenged the way she lived.
This got her to reevaluate how she acted, but it was still a struggle for her until she began to work in the bakery department of our local Sam’s Club. Her direct supervisor was a vicious woman who seemed bent on making everyone around her miserable. Every day our sweet young girl came home in tears, and the situation was almost unbearable. We encouraged her not to give up, but to pray and ask God for wisdom. Somehow the idea struck her to react to the constant jabs of her boss with sweetness (even when she didn’t feel like it); to fight fire with water, so-to-speak.
Amazingly, our daughter’s own torment not only lifted, but she finally began to experience true joy for the first time in her life. Besides being sweet to her direct supervisor, she went around the store and spread kindness and cheerfulness to every other employee. Years after she had left the store and was married with her own children, the employees there would stop me when I shopped and tell me how much they appreciated her gracious spirit.
And it didn’t end there. Today she is the mother of some very rambunctious children and daily faces a number of different challenges, but her sweetness has never waned.
So, even if we don’t feel like it, we can put on a pleasant face. We can answer questions without snapping, we can smile, we can offer a kind reply, and we can even lilt our voices a bit without being fake or less than genuine, because we are putting on Christ when we do so!
It is a sign of the times that women, especially, are closed off and don’t communicate. In certain instances it is very important to keep one’s mouth shut, but when we are dealing with loved ones, it is actually very selfish to be all bottled up so that everyone must constantly wonder what is going on inside.
Keeping everything to ourselves and being abrupt or sharp with others is not a sign of strength, it is a sign of sickness and selfishness.
This point was illustrated for me when I was traveling through New York City in the 80’s. I was on my way to Europe and had to make a connecting flight in New York City by traveling from LaGuardia to JFK airports via bus.
However, there were so many buses outside the terminal I had no way of knowing which was the right one. Finally, I peeped through the door of one and asked the driver if he was going to JFK.
His answer was abrupt and curt; he shouted, “What do I look like, an information booth?” and promptly shut the door in my face!
Believe it or not, this is what we do to our loved ones quite often. In our selfish need for “space” we shut the door to our heart, leaving them out in the cold. Some of our children know not to ask us questions, not to ask even if they can have an orange, because the answer will be a sharp “NO!”, not because we should answer in such a way, but because we can.
Here’s a challenge: Answer all questions with polite, whole, and kind honesty as needed, and as often as you can, make the answer yes, and that with cheerful affirmation, such as, “You betcha!”, or, “Absolutely!”, or a simple, “Sure!”
Be sympathetic and empathetic.
It’s easy to be so wrapped up into our own misery that we can’t find the emotional energy to consider what anyone else is going through, but this only increases our pain!
All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.
But there is something divine that lifts us above our own problems when we begin to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and this includes the tiny shoes of infants and toddlers, as well as the huge shoes of men who trudge back and forth to work and carry the weight of the family on their shoulders.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Think about what Jesus said.
It was when my older children were all very small that the Lord reminded me of this verse:
And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.
This was so relevant to me at the time, since I spent the largest part of my day keeping house, folding clothes, washing dishes, etc. so that when a little one asked me for a drink of water, I was tempted to be harsh, considering it to be an “interruption.” But the words of Jesus helped me to see even the times I wiped noses, answered questions, wiped up spills, etc. when no one else was watching, this was my opportunity to serve Him.
A cup of water can actually mean many different things; an expression of appreciation, some praise, an offer of a food treat or special activity, or just about anything else that fills the need or soothes the ache of another family member.
Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Welcoming a child means an open heart, open arms, and an open door. It means brightening up when he comes home. It says, “I want to have you near me.”
Treat family members as our “clients.”
Typically, being in the company of new people brings out the best in us, and being around family brings out the worst, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
Those who are in any service industry know just how to pour on the sugar when the job is on the line, or whenever it means making money. Somehow, even if we are suffering from a headache or a stomach ache, we find a way to answer sweetly, even to muster a smile for some of the rudest people on the planet!
Herein lies the secret; don’t look at your rambunctious 12-year-old as an annoyance, think of him as your client, your “customer,” and treat him appropriately.
Amazingly, a lot of the reason children act up continuously is because they are insecure, either about life in general, or about whether or not they are valued and loved by us, their mothers. Just a little bit of kind attention can go a long way towards calming and reassuring a young person who feels confused, afraid, even angry or depressed.