At the beginning of the year I thought I had found my dream college. In my mind, this college and I were a perfect fit. I imagined myself walking through the campus, I convinced myself that this was it, that THIS was where I would spend my next four years.
Last month I received an email telling me that while I may have believed this college to be perfect for me, I was not perfect for them. That while they might be my dream school, I was not their dream student. I was crushed. The future that I had longed for, that I had planned, had fallen apart and I didn’t really know what to do next.
How does this relate to gentleness, the theme of the month? Well Jane de Chantal tells us that “gentleness encourages hearts and makes them more receptive while harsh words only harden hearts”. This can relate in a valuable way to our interactions with others, in maintaining an attitude of kindness and openness towards the people around us. But I have found a particular meaning in Jane’s words as they relate to the way in which we treat ourselves and open ourselves up to God.
My first reaction after hearing about my rejection was one of complete despair and anger. I was angry at the college, at the system that would put students through such pain and disappointment. But I was most of all angry with myself. You must have done something wrong I told myself. I beat myself up for not doing enough, for not studying months ahead for every exam, for not joining every activity that was offered here, for not starting my own non-profit, for not writing the next great American novel by age 17. These “harsh words” as Jane de Chantal would put it, created a heart that was indeed “hardened”, closed off from support from friends and ultimately the hopeful messages of God.
Luckily, however, I was gradually able to turn around, to change my perception. I began to offer myself positive messages instead of the negative ones I had filled my mind with. I started to have patience with myself, to be forgiving of my faults while realizing that my rejection from one college was not a comment on my own personal worth. To treat myself with gentleness. And with this gentleness, make myself more receptive to God in my life. As my heart “softened” so to speak, I could realize that despite my disappointment, my life was still so very blessed. I could see God at work in the supportive friends around me. And as I begin to know myself more I have come to realize that this dream college of mine might not have been so perfect for me after all, that God might have just given me a close save.
My experiences with disappointment this year have shown me the incredible importance of personal gentleness. The way we treat ourselves is truly the way we treat others. So how can we treat others with gentleness if we don’t start with ourselves? Only by first understanding our own self-worth, by being patient with ourselves, by humbly accepting ourselves for who we are, can we recognize the great value in others, can we act with patience in our relationships, can we love the people around us for their glorious individuality.
With this in mind I would like to close with the words of Gandhi reminding us of this great power of personal gentleness. As he simply put it, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”