I’m sitting across the table from someone I love, but in this moment, we do not agree with each other. My hands are curled into fists, and my heart is pounding so hard I wonder if they can hear it. This conversation has been coming for months. We’ve lined up dominoes of small conflicts, little misunderstandings, tiny judgments, and a recent event finally made them all come toppling down.
I feel angry and afraid, confused and hurt. Above all else, I want to defend myself. I want to prove I am a very good person. I am right, and they are wrong. All will be well if they will just listen to me and do what I say. There’s only one problem: Deep down in my soul, I know Jesus does not treat me this way.
I recently read the book Gentle and Lowly by Dane Ortlund. He points out, “In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — eighty-nine chapters of biblical text — there’s only one place where Jesus tells us about his own heart.” What are the only two words Jesus ever uses to describe His heart? “Gentle and lowly” (Matthew 11:29).
The Jesus kind of gentleness is not weakness; it is strength under control. It’s the courage to choose compassion instead of condemnation. It’s not forcefulness but tenderness, not imposing our will but seeking intimacy with others, not pushy but patient. It is hard.
Lowliness is humility, the willingness to be curious, the art of not exalting ourselves or opinions but washing the feet of the undeserving. It is coming to even the hardest conversations not from a position of “knowing it all” but seeking to understand. It’s not demanding our way but choosing to serve. It is almost impossible.
Sitting at that table, I whisper my favorite one-word prayer, “Help.”
What comes to mind is asking a question that starts with this phrase, “Can you help me understand . . . ?” As I say it, I feel a shift in the room; the person I’m asking looks surprised. They answer slowly and with hesitation, unsure if I’m sincere or waiting to pounce.
I listen, nod, and when they’re done talking I ask, “What else?” We go on this way until they’ve said it all. Then I share my perspective too. I say what’s okay in our relationship going forward and what is not. I ask that we commit to working through things together, not letting them build up or venting our complaints to other people. It’s not an instant cure. Birds don’t sing or unicorns appear, but it feels like a start.
We’re in a world where we are all sitting across the table from someone we disagree with these days. Maybe it’s in your kitchen. Perhaps it’s on social media. It might be at church, at work, or at school. Our natural inclination as humans is to shout to make our voices heard, push our opinions, cross our arms instead of remembering we are people of the cross.
It’s both deeply challenging and comforting to me that our Jesus didn’t walk through the world this way. How can we love more like Him this week? Perhaps we can begin with a one-word prayer for help and asking two questions:
Can you help me understand?
Seven words total. They are not magic. They won’t instantly make all our anger or fear go away. They won’t solve every problem. We might need to say them through tears or gritted teeth. But they are a start. They are a way to reach across the table and dare to love a little more like our Savior, who is still gentle and lowly in heart.
What’s causing you stress? Whether it’s the conflict in our world, everyday struggles, or a personal crisis, you can find encouragement and help in Holley Gerth’s new devotional book What Your Soul Needs for Stressful Times: 60 Powerful Truths to Protect Your Peace.
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Ruth Mills says
What a powerful post this is! Thank you for your insights & practical advice, Holley. Bless you richly!
Elizabeth (Betsy) Hall says
Most excellent! I learned this principle as a RN supervisor, praying each morning as I drove to work, that the Lord would use me to be His tool in my job. I supervised 52 people, not easy!! They soon learned they could say anything they wanted to me–as long as it stayed in my office. They also learned that my response after they had let it all out, if a response was needed, would be Godly counsel. I worked for a State run institution–so I had to be careful. They respected me and I respected them–no matter what was said in my office. God guides very well.
Holley Gerth says
Wow, Elizabeth! Supervising 52 people…that’s amazing. I’m sure you touched many lives.
Melody G says
Wow! What a timely reality check. I so want to show Christ to others but so often just show ME. My “rightness”, my “wisdom”, and honestly, my lack of humility. Thank you for these seven words which point me on the path Jesus would have me take.
Kris Camealy says
Thank you for this, Holley. I needed this.
Holley Gerth says
You’re welcome, friend!
Excellent suggestion. Those are powerful words.
This is such a practical every day, every person way to not only distress a situation, but also bring about peace to the people involved. Instead of blowing up, or simpering backward, This offers a way to engage without hurting the other person or breaking the bond that might be created or strengthened.
Thank you so much for this insight during my Lenten quest of discerning Christ’ plan for me.
Oh my gosh this is actually just so profound….. I struggle so much with my relationship with my dad and am constantly trying to think of new ways of communication with him – I am absolutely going to use these two questions and see how it changes the dynamic of the conversation.
Holley Gerth says
Family relationships can be so tricky. Praying now for your connection with your Dad! XO
That one word prayer “Help,” is a huge game-changer as well. Acknowledging that He has all the answers, the correct “position” not us.
These are much-needed words of wisdom and guidance, for me and others (I shared your post with my adult daughter). Now to put this into practice. Old habits and mindsets die hard. I have such a far way to go still. Thank you for these two questions. May they be used wisely and laced with God’s grace.
Kathy Cheek, Seasons and Faith says
Thank you, Holley!
I’m not good at confrontation so I tend to avoid it when I need to be braver and able to cautiously and wisely (hopefully) express my side without fearing a blow up, so I think your advice today will go a long way to help when these occasions occur.
Holley Gerth says
I’m with you on hating confrontation, Kathy! Whew. I’m so glad these words were helpful to you, my fellow peace lover.
Oh Holley, how profound are your words. I once read a story about a woman going through difficult times and her answer to a question about how she endured was “For this there is Jesus.”
When we cry out for Help! His answer is always I am here.
Thank you and bless you
Every time I read one of these
“In courage.me” I say to myself
How can these get any better!
Wonderful Words to think
Thank You All
Holley Gerth says
That’s so kind, Sandy! Thank you for being here and reading!
Wow, Great Insight. This something I’m going to my best to incorporate into my relationships.
Pearl Allard says
I appreciate this. Thank you, Holley.
Beth Williams says
Great post once again~ Our world is becoming so divisive. It seems we all have an opinion on topics like Covid vaccine, President Biden guns, etc. Each think they have the right answers & we are all clamoring to voice our opinions. What we need to do is stop & listen to each other. Don’t judge or cut people off mid sentence. In order to show this world more Jesus we need to stay calm, pray for guidance from God & as those two important questions Can you help me understand? What Else? Truly everyone just wants to be seen & heard. To get their side of the story out in the open.
Lovelle Mayfield says
So simple, and yet so profound. At 85 years old, I’m still learning!
Thank you Lord. Thank you Holley!