Meekness is not a quality that is at the top of virtues most people would like to acquire. My own thoughts have been along the line of weak, unassertive, super humble and timid. The fact that the meek are to inherit the earth was a bit puzzling.
In the most recent annual general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder David A. Bednar gave a talk about meekness. I read his talk a time or two, and then began seeking additional insight. In the process I gained new appreciation for this unappreciated virtue. Far from weak, it requires self-mastery.
In Matthew, Christ describes himself as meek, saying: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.” (Matt. 11:29) Why would he choose to describe himself with that attribute?
The Bible footnotes offer gentle and humble as synonyms for meek. A Book of Mormon prophet enlarged on that definition: “And now I would that ye should be humble, and be submissive and gentle; easy to be entreated; full of patience and long-suffering; being temperate in all things; being diligent in keeping the commandments of God at all times; asking for whatsoever things ye stand in need, both spiritual and temporal, always returning thanks unto God for whatsoever things ye do receive.“ (Alma 7:23)
Elder Bednar notes that the quality of meekness is often misunderstood. “Meekness is strong, not weak; active, not passive; courageous, not timid; restrained, not excessive; modest, not self-aggrandizing; and gracious, not brash. A meek person is not easily provoked, pretentious or overbearing, and readily acknowledges the accomplishments of others.”
Moses, recognized as being learned as well as mighty in word and deed (Acts 7:22), was also praised as being “very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” (Numbers 12:3) A study of the 40 years from leaving Egypt to entering the Promised Land gives evidence of his opportunity to develop and display meekness.
While humility may be characterized generally as depending upon God for guidance and support, Elder Bednar sees meekness as spiritual receptiveness to learning from the Holy Ghost as well as from other people, even those who seem unlikely by virtue of background, education or status to offer anything of value.
The story of Naaman, a Syrian noble who suffered from leprosy, is an example of receptiveness to learning from others. He sought healing from the prophet Elisha on the recommendation of his maid servant. After being instructed to bathe seven times in the river Jordan, Naaman balked at performing the simple task. Heeding the suggestion of a second servant that he reconsider, he bathed seven times and was cured.
Someone who is meek controls his response to life situations, as well as to those who offend or challenge him. Such a person can celebrate the success of others without resentment; listen to their adventures without a need to impress them with his own experiences; respond to criticism, deserved or not, with equanimity; refrain from retaliating or using greater skills or knowledge to belittle another in any circumstance; and not entertain feelings of self-importance or superiority to any fellow being.
The Savior’s life is replete with examples of meekness. Even in the unimaginable suffering of Gethsemane, having the power to forgo the coming events, Christ prayed, “Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42) His willing submission to the agony he knew was to come is the perfect example of meekness.
Meekness is a virtue that may seem out of place in our world, where assertiveness, aggressiveness and insensitivity are applauded, and the obsession with selfies speaks for itself. Nevertheless, meekness is relevant to our daily life. Its existence and exercise affect the quality of life as we think and behave differently toward others, and as we express gratitude for all we receive.
Meekness is a spiritual gift we can seek, remembering that like other gifts of the spirit, it is given for the benefit of God’s children. It is a gift that comes as we follow Christ and try to be like him. As we seek other Christlike qualities, such as faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, kindness and charity, we will discover that meekness is basic to developing any of them.
The Idaho Statesman's weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.