My sister blinked on her mascara, leaning against the sink. I was leaning against the other, powdering on my blush.
“I think ‘cute’ is the death knell of fashion, ” I replied. “We could use that word in the movie Emma – ‘when I don’t know what to say, I just call her ‘elegant’.”
“Elegant is too good a compliment in this day and age to waste it as a word for mediocrity.” Autumn returned, capping her mascara and widening her hazel eyes.
I don’t know whether we read it in a Southern Lady’s Handbook or in Stacy and Clinton’s What Not to Wear, but during our bathroom pow-wows my sisters and I decided words like ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’ were secret, womanese insults. It became a running joke betwixt sisters – and if you came downstairs and your sister said you looked cute… might as well give up on life. Maybe not life, but at least that outfit.
Our childhoods form much of what we think about life as adults. I still have a hitch about ‘cute’ and ‘sweet’, even now as a working, married woman! So when I read a book that encouraged me to be ‘sweet’ to my husband, my first thought was me, in a pink jumper and a french braid, greeting him at the door like a giddy schoolgirl. And I bristled.
Probably like many women react when they see the word ‘submit’, ‘sweet’ sent me into a paranoid land of misconception. And as embarrassing as this is to admit, the word catapulted me into imagining my favorite work suit sets being sent to Goodwill, my passion for justice being roped into demure bread making, and any productivity set aside for a motto of ‘great moms have sticky floors and happy kids’.
And sticky floors go against my theology of cleanliness, so now I’m left with a choice between Murphy’s Oil Soap and unhappy children, which just doesn’t seem very fair to my Type A self.
Like my last post talked about, love is a necessary part of every day life. What I’m still learning is that sweetness is a derivative of love.
“I’m pretty sure ‘sweet’ isn’t necessarily biblical,” I growled to myself as I sat at the kitchen table, Bible versions open around me, Greek definitions in front of me, and sour attitude inside of me. In a sense, that’s true. The fruit of the Spirit doesn’t include ‘sweetness’ – but it does include a trait which overlaps with the dreaded virtue: gentleness.
I’ve never met someone I’d consider both a ‘go-getter’ and ‘gentle’. These two traits seem mutually exclusive. But as I researched more into the word and thought about what gentleness is, I realized (or rather, am in the process of realizing) that sweetness is just one ingredient in the batter of love.
Can I be loving and at the same time, brash?
Can I be loving and at the same time, harsh?
Can I be loving and at the same time, coarse?
I like to powder my piggish words by calling brashness ‘directness’, harshness, ‘honesty’, and coarseness ‘the hard truth’. But truth doesn’t need to be hard in delivery, though it may be hard to consume.
Speaking gently, being sweet… these are signs that we are ‘growing up’ in Christ. They are signs of maturity. Basically, mature women – strong women – are able to contain their anger and irritation to choose sweetness. It’s not weak; it is meekness, or strength under control. Contrary to what the world teaches and Ann Coulter demonstrates on TV, we are not blessed by God when we coarsely deliver information.
We aren’t blessed when we are snarky at our husbands and snappy at our kids.
We aren’t blessed when we are dismissive of our relatives and condescending to our friends.
I haven’t been blessed, or at peace, when I do these things.
Gentleness begins with guarding our hearts, which works outwardly as we guard our mouths. As I’ve stated before, I’m not writing from a standpoint of ‘I’ve got this’; I’m writing straight out of a composition book of scribbled notes that will hopefully scribble themselves into my brain and change my not-so-gentle actions. More often than not, I’m bitter – not sweet.
This past Sunday a guest speaker gave the message at our church. The passage he used was 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, which says:
The speaker told of an invention called ‘Smell-o-Vision’, a product of the 1960’s that released fragrances specific to certain images on a movie screen. It was supposed to intensify the movie-going experience. He asked a poignant question: “If your face were on the screen, what aroma would go with it?” We could also ask, “What flavor is my personality?” Am I delicious chocolate truffle, or a puke flavored jelly bean? The sweet aroma Paul mentions in the Corinthians passage above is the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this knowledge (the fragrance of Christ on us) is how God manifests Himself through us.
So when I am sour, bitter, and generally ‘unsweetened’, I am not manifesting Jesus Christ – regardless of how I attempt to justify my actions.
This is important because our ‘fragrance’, whether of Christ or of our former sinful selves, is among ‘those who are being saved and those who are perishing’. Christians – new or grounded – and unbelievers ‘smell’ and ‘taste’ our personalities every day. Our spouses have an even more up-close-and-personal scent and flavor of who we are. So if we aren’t immersed in a true knowledge of Christ Himself (not just facts about Him), we’re going to be very unsweetened women.
It takes strength to be sweet. It takes intentionality to modify our moods, control our emotions, and temper our anger. Some may have an easier time with this than others, but ultimately it is the same for all women: Type A and otherwise. The knowledge of Jesus Christ Himself is the sweetening element. He is the ‘gentle and lowly in heart’ whose example we emulate (Matt. 11:29).
Love is on the to-do list, and gentleness (sweetness) is a derivative of that love. We like things that are sweet, right? (Just think of chocolate and say yes.) So do our husbands, our families and our friends. So do the unbelievers around us, who won’t swallow a gospel coated in bitterness. Sweetness isn’t weakness; it’s not (contrary to my spastic visions) pink jumpers and french braids. Sweet women are strong women: wives who strive to show love even when it is hard, mothers who control their anger when children incite it, friends who bite their tongues when gossip comes easily. No one said it would be easy; Jesus said it was required.
It’s contrary to my Type A self, but so is Jesus contrary to my natural self. I don’t have to send away my favorite work dresses. I don’t have to spend my days hand-kneading wheat loaves (thank heavens for my bread machine!). I don’t need to give up clean floors in order to love my kids. It is possible to be a go-getter and a list maker while also being gentle and sweet-hearted, but the change is dependent upon priority. Is our first choice the list, or love?