Care Bears were big in the late eighties when I was dating my future husband. I thought I was being romantic on our first Valentine’s Day date when I gave him ‘Tenderheart’ – the cute Care Bear with a red heart embroidered on his tummy. Turns out it was more prophetic than romantic!
We still have ‘Tenderheart’ as part of our bear collection and our kids have enjoyed playing with him over the years. He may be a bit battered nearly 30 years on, but the wisdom he personifies is fresh in my thoughts right now. What I didn’t know back then in the thick of our romance was that in order to survive and thrive in marriage, and indeed in all aspects of life, we would need to BE tenderhearted.
As much as we thought so at the time, it turns out that romantic feelings were not going to be enough to sustain us through all the storms of life. What we needed was an intentional mind set and an acquisition of some skills to cultivate the soil of our hearts. In order for a harvest of life and peace to shoot up from the seeds of our romantic love, we had to learn how to keep our hearts soft and open towards God and each other through all the challenges that were to come.
In the midst of the joys and tears, dreams and fears, we have learned these precious lessons by believing and living out the Word of God…
“Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12
We passed this wisdom onto our son on his wedding day and we need to keep it in mind each day too – not just in matters of marriage, but in all our relationships because we are robbed of peace, joy and deeply satisfying connections when our hearts get hard.
It sure hurts to keep my heart tender – there is a cost to it that I find I cannot bear alone. But friends, can I tell you from the benefit of personal experience that it hurts WAY more to protect my heart with the armour of blame, bitterness, condemnation, unforgiveness, hatred, unresolved grief and shame that all keep me trapped in a place where my heart ends up dead – cold and hard as stone.
In this lonely place, I may feel protected from further harm, but it is an illusion. In this dark cave, I may feel a measure of self-comfort as I lick my wounds. But what’s really going on is that I am unable to receive comfort and help from God and I end up missing the family and friends He sends to minister to me.
You know, I have been told that my facial features change when I am harboring offence and I am protecting myself. I can believe it because I see the same contortions in the facial lines of some of my loved ones who are in danger of becoming hard hearted in their pain and disappointments. The other sad fact is that our stubborn, hardened hearts not only further wound our own well-being but also damage our most treasured relationships, often hurting those we love most.
OK, so how do we keep our hearts tenderly clothed in this harsh environment we are called to live in? Like me, you too have the daily choice to put on tenderness. No, it is NOT easy to BE tenderhearted and stay that way, but it really is the only way to live in complete freedom. Paul tells us the main garments we need to put on to enjoy a life of tenderhearted liberty. His words to the first believers still kick the same punch today…
“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:32
FACT AND FICTION:
FACT: tenderheartedness walks hand in hand with kindness and forgiveness. “Impossible”, you may be thinking right now. “I can’t do it! No way! I don’t even want to!” Yes, I know! It is absolutely impossible to be kind to some people and forgive some offences on our own. Indeed, to forgive fully, as Jesus requires of His followers, is utterly impossible without Him. But friends, believing that you cannot show kindness and forgive is FICTION. Here is the Good News – God is not asking us to do something that He has not done Himself and thankfully, He does not leave us to our own devices!
FACT: Our Heavenly Father is tenderhearted toward us and asks us to reflect the same kindness and forgiveness He offers us in Christ. He has given us both the example and the means to fulfil HIs command to BE tenderhearted in seemingly impossible situations.
FACT: Our Lord Jesus stayed tenderhearted right throughout His earthly life and even as He was dying He did not harden His heart. Incredibly as He was nailed to the cross in sheer agony, He showed kindness and freely forgave those who were mercilessly tormenting, torturing and executing Him.
FACT: Our Comforter, the Holy Spirit of God, is willing and able to give us a new, tender heart like His! Tenderhearted kindness and forgiveness are all possible in Him as He leads us to tenderhearted peace and freedom – what a precious gift!
Bethany has left us a wonderful example of tenderheartedness too. She had many reasons to harden her heart to God with the cruel injustice of her brain cancer. But we are so thankful that she made the choice to remain tenderhearted, just like her Saviour, and the result was beautiful. Not only could she receive all she needed from Him with her open and tender heart, she could also give out from this tenderness and minister to others as she lay dying – just as Jesus did. WOW!
Dear friends, the condition of our heart is something we must consider and treasure – for God surely does. We must never forget the ancient wisdom imploring us to guard our hearts ABOVE ALL ELSE because our heart is the very well spring of life! (Proverbs 4:23)
I would like to finish with another piece of wisdom from Peter, the friend of Jesus who believed the FICTION for a while but was overcome with the FACT that he was loved and forgiven. Filled with the Holy Spirit, he learned to love and forgive with a tender heart too.
“Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. BE tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude.” 1 Peter 3:8
“SO WHAT CAN BE DONE FOR AN OLD HEART LIKE MINE? SOFTEN IT UP WITH OIL AND WINE. THE OIL IS YOU, YOUR SPIRIT OF LOVE – PLEASE WASH ME ANEW IN THE WINE OF YOUR BLOOD.” (KEITH GREEN)