How my parents taught me gentleness and forgiveness

Written by Robbie Down

“Ego kills what we love,” states Ryan Holiday in his book Ego Is the Enemy (Penguin, 2016). The past year or so has been isolating in some form or another for most of us. And isolation naturally leads to ego, since we’re left to meet our needs on our own.

The pandemic has led to a curious shift in many of us; we’re more comfortable with self-serving behaviour. I mean, think about it. The healthy humility and meekness we are called to as followers of Jesus is almost exclusively lived out within communities. It can feel as though we’ve been largely excused from generosity and servanthood while we distance and commune over Zoom.

Long before Covid-19, we have all wrestled with our efforts to be selfless. It is simply being brought to the surface by our current season. Speaking for myself, I have been feeling rather awkward as we slowly get back to regular social gatherings. It seems I’m having to remember all over again what it looks like to listen, to be self-forgetful, and to invite the Spirit’s workings into my communing with my friends.

This summer, I lived with my family after my freshman year of university. Because of the social restrictions that remain, I have had the unique opportunity to meditate on and discuss with my parents the dynamics of our family, with all the quirks, faith, and conflicts it holds. Through prayers of gratitude, God has revealed to me the different fruits He has been harvesting in our family over the years.

Our characters are formed by our family of origin. The virtues I learned from my parents have been preparing me to battle against the self-centred effects of isolation in this pandemic. As A.W. Tozer said in a 1957 sermon, “Battles are always lost or won before they are fought.” By this, Tozer means that one’s spiritual character and practice of prayer leading up to an obstacle influence whether one wins or loses. Now, my family is by no means perfect. But let meshow you some of their virtues that have painted themselves on the canvas of my character.

Growing up, one of the important ethics I learned was telling the truth. Whether lying about breaking something in the house or where I was late at night, I found there were consequences for lying and rewards for practising honesty. In hindsight, my dad had a great deal of gentleness with me. Even if he had reactions of impatience, those moments of rebuking were still expressed in a gentle way.

I recall a specific instance where my sister and I were at each other’s necks in a fight over using the computer (silly, I know). Every Sunday after church we would race from the car to the computer to see who could get on first and it would always end in a name-calling, hair-pulling, head-butting brawl. This time I’d had enough, and I hit my sister hard enough to bring tears. My dad pulled me aside firmly. He told me my sister deserved to be treated better; if I wanted something, I should use my words instead of my fists.

In that moment, he taught me that gentleness is a key manifestation of love—even in conflict. Navigating our polarized, self-serving society demands a gentle spirit so we can live at peace with one another.

Another virtue ingrained in me from childhood has been to offer apologies and grant forgiveness. My mom deeply desired to raise her family with these traits. When a wrong created friction between me and my mother, we needed to make amends so we could keep short accounts with each other.

One night in high school, I told my mom I was spending time at a friend’s house when I was really at a party. Instead of taking my word for it, my mom caught the hint of deceit. She stayed up until I came home in the late hours of the night. I was caught dead in my tracks when I walked in the front door and saw my mom waiting for her son to arrive safely home. Although at times there was nothing I wanted less, I learned to apologize and rebuild trust through my mom’s instruction and forgiveness.

We cannot live selflessly unless we lead with confession and forgiveness because they allow us to be at peace in our relationships. Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is a reminder of our countercultural nature of being peacemakers. Biblical selflessness is the strongest tool we will ever use to kill our ego and be effective peacemakers.