Trying Tenderness

What does the word “tenderness” bring to mind? Is it a young mother gently brushing the hair aside from her sleeping infant’s forehead? The nurse speaking words of reassurance to a scared patient? The gray-haired man spoon-feeding his wife who no longer remembers his name? The pastor patiently guiding and comforting the struggling adolescent? All of these are reflections—human expressions—of the “tender mercy” of God in whose image and likeness we are made.

Maybe like me your picture of God hasn’t always been characterized by tenderness but rather by a sense of God as stern and strict. But lately, the very realistic, biblical notion of God’s unequaled tenderness has been softening the edges of my fear and filling the dry, cracked places in me like soothing ointment. I’d like to carry that tenderness with me as my theme for Lent, letting it infuse the traditional three-fold practice of prayer, almsgiving and fasting. What might that look like? Here are some ideas—maybe you care to join me?

I will rest in the tender, formless arms of God in prayer. This is the toughest one for me. I want to make prayer complicated or formulaic, rather than just entering into a conversation—a comfortable and comforting relationship—with my loving Creator, Teacher and Friend. But this Lent, I intend to relax and get out of God’s way. I can trust God to be gentle with me. She always is!

I will give tenderly to others. Jesus said we are all sisters and brothers. When we see someone in need and we are moved to respond to it, we are being tender-hearted. When we are charitable in thought, word or deed, we live out the compassionate “social friendship” that Pope Francis calls us to in Fratelli Tutti. This Lent I intend to give out of love, not obligation, in some small way, every day.

I will fast with tenderness for myself. Placing boundaries around bad habits or sinful tendencies through fasting (or discipline more broadly) can be a gateway to maturity, self-respect and self-love. But discipline without tenderness for yourself can feel forced and dictatorial, leading to a constriction of the heart and a resistant will. Discipline guided by the awareness of God’s compassionate mercy for us, however, can gently inspire healthier, kinder habits. God knows what we’re made of, remembers we are dust. God wants to give us a fuller life, more abundance, GREATER FREEDOM! By saying “no” to our “small” desires, we make space for the love of Jesus to flow into and through us. We say “YES” to our tender, loving God. This Lent, I intend to cut myself some slack if my fasting falters.
Blessings to you for a Lenten season full of the boundless tenderness of Christ!

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