“Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.”
1 Peter 3:3-4
I grew up in the church. I remember learning that a godly woman should have a gentle and quiet spirit. I looked at women in their 70s who never said a word and hid behind their husbands, and I imagined that was what God would find most pleasing. Nobody taught me to see it that way – I just came up with my own definition.
Maybe you didn’t grow up in the church. Maybe hearing that a godly woman has a gentle and quiet spirit makes you want to scream. How could God put women in a box like that, expecting them to behave outside their personalities? Why does God command this to women but not to men?
In this post, I’d like to dispel some of the myths surrounding the definition of a gentle and quiet spirit. I’ll also talk about how to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit in the way God intended (not by change of personality).
Let’s start by looking back up at 1 Peter 3:3-4. The author is talking about what makes a woman beautiful. He’s not saying we should never put on pretty clothes or wear jewelry. He’s saying our beauty as Christians does not come from our outward appearance. Praise God for that! Our value lies in what is being made beautiful day by day inside our hearts. Whether you’re physically beautiful (by cultural standards) or not, Christ in you is continually increasing your beauty as you grow in Him.
Proverbs 31 is the primary passage talking about a woman’s internal beauty. Verse 25 says, “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” So this woman clothes herself with strength and dignity. Upon first glance this could sound contradictory to the woman who is gentle and quiet. However, let’s look at the second half of the verse – “she laughs at the time to come.” What does it mean to laugh at the future?
This truth is irreversibly tied to quietness of spirit. The Proverbs 31 woman looks ahead into the unknown and isn’t afraid. She is confident in God’s provision and love, so she is able to fulfill her responsibilities and leave everything else to God. This is what makes her full of strength and dignity.
As I began to learn about this and process the vast difference between me and this godly woman in Scripture, I remembered the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42). Martha was getting stuff done. She was working hard to serve Jesus when he came over for dinner. Her sister, Mary, was sitting around listening to Jesus talk instead of helping with preparations. Martha was angry and asked Jesus to tell Mary to help. Jesus rebuked Martha and said Mary had chosen the better thing. That story really frustrates me because I was cut from the same cloth as Martha. I know how to get stuff done. This is a great gift, but I also misuse it and begin to do things I’m not called to do. The Proverbs 31 woman fulfills her responsibilities and leaves everything else to God.
The words Jesus said to Martha haunt me: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things.” If I want to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit, I have to take a look at what troubles me and makes me anxious. The opposite of quietness is loudness. My spirit is LOUD. I’m always talking, always trying to figure things out and plan for all contingencies. I’m frustrated when things don’t go my way. I wish I could be in charge of everything and everyone because then I could make things (and people) better. Basically, I’m taking on God’s responsibilities.
Psalm 56:3-4 says, “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can flesh do to me?” So first I need to acknowledge that my desire to control circumstances and people reveals that I don’t trust God to do His job. I think I need to help Him (or take over completely) because I don’t see Him as a good Father who provides what I need. I also need to acknowledge that my desire to control is based in FEAR. I am afraid of what is to come, so I seek to prepare and control outcomes.
When I acknowledge my desire to control and its root in fear, I must confess and repent of the ways I’ve tossed God off His throne and put myself there. Where I don’t feel the weight of that sin, I beg Him to convict me deeply. Then I receive His forgiveness and grace, knowing His steadfast love and faithfulness are from everlasting to everlasting for those who love and fear Him (Sidenote: remember previous posts about the fear of God? Dwelling in the fear of God naturally cultivates quietness of spirit!)
Finally, I must engage in the discipline of sitting at his feet, just as Mary did. We have to make the conscious choice to rest in His provision and wisdom and goodness. Warning: this will be really hard to do, especially if you’ve spent your life doing the opposite. Here is an example of a way to start the process:
- Set aside a 30-minute block of time when you are wide awake and free from distraction.
- Recognize you’ll be distracted even if there are no outside forces distracting you. Some find it helpful to write down all the things they still need to do that day and/or the things swirling around in their minds.
- Begin with prayer, and pray out loud. This is vital. Praying aloud keeps you locked in and focused on what you’re doing.
- Read a short passage such as Psalm 23 or Psalm 91. Read it out loud and slowly.
- Pray the passage back to God. For example: “Father, thank you that you are my shepherd and provide everything I need.” Focus on His attributes and character, and don’t ask Him for anything.
- Write down the ways in which you’ve seen a particular character trait displayed in your life and throughout Scripture you know. For example: If you’re thinking about His provision, write down times He clearly provided for you, and then write down examples you remember when God provided in the Bible.
- Make a habit of engaging God in this way on a daily basis. Stop just asking him for stuff. He wants to hear your requests, but He also wants to hear your praise and adoration.
I think the reason many people struggle to find rest in God’s presence is because they wrongly think rest means they just sit there and listen to God talk. I promise, He’s talking to you as you pray and think and write. Sitting in quietness is a good thing, but first you must learn to worship Him by reflecting on His character. As you see Him more and more correctly over time, you will find your mind and heart at rest to listen quietly.
In our next post, we’ll talk about the obstacles to becoming a woman with a gentle and quiet spirit.