Tenderness…I knew what it was but not at the level I do today (I wonder what tomorrow will bring). Much of my early life was spent being tough and not tender, more out of necessity than choice. The details really aren’t important; understanding is and hopefully sharing it! Unfortunately, I didn’t even know how “unhealthy tough” I’d become. Even though I’ve been greatly loved by God, husband, children, and friends for decades, I had still let toughness steel me to tenderness.
Circumstances finally forced a break, with toughness giving way and making room for tenderness. It seemed to happen “out of the blue”, but in truth, it was our extraordinary God making a way during an incongruous time in my life! So much was going wrong yet so much was right. The hurt was so bad, yet it was so good. It was the best of times and the worst of times at the SAME time! The challenges were overwhelming yet I felt calm in the midst of the storm. Harsh and hard-hitting things were coming from every angle yet I felt a sort of gentleness, warmth, and softness in my spirit. So…though everything seemed wrong, everything was right. Ever felt that way? Where toughness had previously made me hard and inflexible, now tenderness was making me soft and flexible, yet still strong. What happened?
- I lost some precious relationships but God found me in the midst of brokenness to show me my part – I learned a lot about friendship.
- I doubted myself and my ability to be in healthy loving relationships but God made sure I saw and was certain of His ability to put me in healthy, loving, and yes, tender relationships where we can be strong in Him.
- I struggled with trust at a level I couldn’t imagine, complete with skepticism, wariness, and cynicism hardening me even more. Instead of coddling me, God brought conviction, leading to reckless abandonment and vulnerability to Him. Though I’ve always trusted God, now I was addicted to trusting Him.
- Worthiness, long ago settled for me in Christ, was nearly decimated. Holy Spirit replaced my feelings of unworthiness AGAIN, showing my worth in Jesus who loves like no other.
This exchange of toughness for tenderness came through the hand of God breaking what I thought to be unbreakable. It came through the Spirit of God shattering what appeared to be shatterproof. It came through gaining what I perceived to be lost and it came through admitting I wasn’t totally and completely depending on God.
When the exchange happened, I realized how much I REALLY need Him every moment of every day and night! I can’t breathe without Him. And trust me on this one; this kind of tenderness makes a person extremely vulnerable to Him and this in turn creates humility unmatched on this earth. These three things: Dependence, vulnerability, and humility can take any semblance of toughness we maintain and create tenderness unimaginable and unexpected.
I had some questions though. “How did this happen? How did God do this to me? How does God make us vulnerable? How does He position us for dependency on Him? How does He create tenderness in us for Him and others? How can we be strong but not so tough anymore?”
The answers are found by looking in His Word, where tenderness is almost always united with His mercy. He showers us with His own “tender mercies” and then…we’re addicted! In both the Old and New Testaments God’s tenderness is most often associated with His mercy. For the Hebrews (Old Testament) “tender” references the “bowels” or “seat of the most tender of affections”; especially kindness, compassion, and benevolence. For the Greeks (New Testament) “tender” also refers to the “bowels” or seat of the more violent passions such as anger and love. In English, tenderness combines these same thoughts: compassion, warmth, gentleness, kindheartedness, affection, care, LOVE in the deepest parts of our being. In truth, if we could open our hearts, God’s tenderness and compassion would pour out. His mercies, which multiply without measure, would overwhelm us!
Here are a few verses from the Psalms to fill us with His tender mercies:
Psalms 69:16 “Hear me, O Lord, for Your lovingkindness is good; turn to me according to the multitude of Your tender mercies.”
Psalms 79:8 “Oh, do not remember former iniquities against us! Let Your tender mercies come speedily to meet us, for we have been brought very low.”
Psalms 103:4 “Who redeems your life from destruction, who crowns you with lovingkindness and tender mercies…”
Psalms 119:77 “Let Your tender mercies come to me, that I may live; for Your law is my delight.”
Psalms 145:9 “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works.”
In all these verses tender mercies refer to God’s compassion and favor poured into the innermost part of who we are. We are His creations; His dearly loved children. God is the source of all mercy and it is through His compassion that we are filled with His compassion, His tender mercies. When God broke through my toughness, even that which I was unaware of, He brought His compassion and favor to sit in the seat of my emotions and then His Word answered all the questions.
How did this happen? Toughness came as a result of hurt, abuse, distrust, fear, doubt, loneliness, and a whole host of other circumstances. But in my toughness, I was not strong. I was just hard! How did God do “this” to me, break through my toughness with His tenderness? He did it by reminding me people I love will always hurt me and I will hurt others. Abuse, distrust, doubt, loneliness are all part of life. Fear comes at us daily. None of those things are going to stop – but toughness isn’t going to help! Jesus is! Total dependence on Him; complete reception of His compassion and favor will keep us tender!
God makes us vulnerable by showing how He sees us – as His own holy and beloved chosen ones! Colossians 3:12 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering.” In Jesus, we are holy and beloved so we get to put on tender mercies. Now THAT is SOME strength! God positions us for dependency on Him by letting us be tough to the point of breaking and then He tenderly reminds us He is there in our innermost beings, deep within, full of compassion and mercy, making us strong and completely transparent before Him.
God creates tenderness for Him and others by putting a longing in our hearts. Paul says in Philippians 1:8 “For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ.” Bowels is also translated affection, tender compassion, or tender mercies. THIS creates a tenderness causing us to love more deeply. Philippians 1:9 “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment,” In truth, He showers us with His own “tender mercies” and then…we’re addicted!
And finally, we can be strong yet not so tough anymore through the encouragement of Christ Jesus giving us courage to be strong and tender, not tough and tender! Philippians 2:1-2 “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion (also translated bowels and mercies or tenderness and compassion) make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.”
If you’ve been tough, go ahead and let the tenderness of God make you strong…in Him!