Tender Hearted

A dear friend of mine gave me a beautiful book by Ruth Chou Simons, Gracelaced:  Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart.  The author is an artist so the pages are truly beautiful.  More importantly, she does a fantastic job of guiding you through meaningful self-reflection.  I highly recommend her book.  

The other day, I was reading through her section on forgiveness.  Forgiveness has always been a challenging topic for me.  I believe this is true for most people.  We want justice now.  We do not want to wait for God’s timing and His justice.

Her self-reflection question was “Who in your life needs to see your tender heart?”  I’ve considered myself to be tender hearted.  Many people have even told me that they saw me as a tender hearted, caring person.  However, I was ashamed of how many people came to mind – and how quickly – that I needed to show tenderness and mercy.  If you would have asked me two days ago if I was a grudge holder, I would have said “No.” The existence of this list says quite the opposite.  I shouldn’t have a list!  

For me, part of this comes from a lack of humility.  If my self worth is truly defined by my relationship with Jesus, how others treat me or view me does not matter.  I worry too much about how others see me.  I worry too much about being successful at work.  If someone falsely diminishes my work or undervalues what I do, it just doesn’t matter in the big picture.  The only thing that matters is what is happening between me and God – that I am working for Him!  What I do at work has little impact long term.  Instead, how I work is what matters.  I need to do all things as if for Him with a tender heart and with integrity.

Beyond the lack of humility, there is a learned behavior here as well.  Self-preservation has its role and is important; yet, sin twists it into something negative.  As a child, I learned early on that other people could not be trusted.  I kept a record of hurts.  Now this was not me as a 6 or 12 year old thinking, “Oh, I should make a list so I remember…”.  I believe it is more of a  subconscious behavior.  Part of the job of our brain is to remember situations or people that are unsafe and help us stay clear of them.  This behavior helps keep us safe.  For me, instead of applying this self-protection to extreme situations, my brain learned to apply it to everyone.  This was a bi-product of believing that no one could be trusted.  And due to this behavior and its liberal application, I spent years keeping people at arms length, and unfortunately, keeping that record of wrongs – big and small.

As a lover of Jesus, I am called to live differently and to let go of my grudge list.  I am called to a life of love.  Love does not keep a record of wrongs.  Love is patient and kind.  This is how I am called to live – to love everyone including my enemies.  I cannot hold on to grudges.

Why would God call us to love our enemies?  First, because He loved us while we were His enemies.  He wants us to love as He loves.  He wants us to live in peace with one another.  Second, all people are created in God’s own image and are precious to Him.  God sent His one and only son, Jesus, to save everyone.  Yes, everyone – all nations and all peoples – no exclusions.  When we love others, despite how they treat us, we shine the light and love of Jesus.  I need to love others because Jesus loves them.  He came to earth and died a brutal death because of how much He loves all of us.  How can I not live as He has asked when He has given so much to me?

Jesus – Please help me to love others regardless of how they treat me.  Help me not to keep a record of wrongs; instead, give me a tender heart and eyes that see others as You see them.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”    Ephesians 4:32 ESV

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”   1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV

“For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son”     Romans 5:10a ESV

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”    John 3:17 ESV

The Next Climb

Have you ever been hiking and you could see the top of the hill, but your body was crying out to stop? So you do some self talk, “Look how close it is. You can do this. Just a few more steps, and you’ve made it.” With determination, you continue the climb only to find that what you saw wasn’t the top at all. Unbelievably, there is another uphill bigger than the one before. Your heart sinks, and the self talk battle begins again. I had this same experience running cross country in high school. I’d misjudge a lag of the race just to realize there was at least another mile to go, and of course, uphill. I have found forgiveness to be the same kind of animal. Just when you think you are there, another climb begins.

Forgiveness has played a huge role in my healing process. When I was young, I wanted to hold onto my anger against my father. Like somehow my anger would hurt him. Truth is, it only hurt me. It added an even darker element to my already crushed soul. And the darkness grew by its constant hunger for hate and malice which only increased my despair and grief. I could not begin to heal holding onto so much hate. A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders when I released that hate. At first, I tried empathy knowing that he too had faced some unknown evils as a child. This did not last and basically crumbled like a house of cards. It wasn’t until I began following Jesus that I learned that I could hand my hurts to Him which made forgiving much easier. Then I soon discovered that I kept taking my hurts back from Jesus which would completely knock the air out of my forgiveness. This was a fairly painful cycle until I eventually did learn to stop taking it back. Talk about a slow learner!

Compassion and empathy were a key component for forgiveness; however, I was incapable of extending that kind of love without God. As I learned more about Jesus and the Bible, I found peace in understanding the grace God had given me. God loved me even in my broken down, messed up state. He loved me even though I was a walking volcano of hate – a hate that I spilled out at everyone. He still loved me. And when I asked Him for forgiveness, He forgave me. He calls me to forgive others as He has forgiven me and leave judgment to Him. But again, this was not the final climb. Part of my false peace still remained in the hope that God’s wrath would be poured out on my dad under God’s judgement. I still wanted revenge.

This week a friend of mine shared her thoughts with me after reading one of my articles, “And, as difficult as it may be to hear … Jesus still loves your terrible, rotten, awful Dad. Apart from His grace (God’s grace), any of us could be as vile and evil as he. Jesus could reach down from heaven, and save your Dad … and redeem him. That to me is unfathomable grace, remarkable grace.”

She is right. And God is calling me to start another climb. A climb to the place where I can be ok if God saves my father the way he saved me. To be ok with someday seeing my father in heaven knowing that he experienced no retribution from what he put me through. That is challenging stuff. But I will be obedient through prayer. I will pray for endurance and strength for myself to follow God’s call but more importantly for my father. I will pray for his soul that he too will be able to reach out and accept God’s perfect grace. I will listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and fix my eyes, with hope, on the next ridge. And holding onto the fact that even though each new climb seems harder, the view keeps getting more and more magnificent.