When you hear the word tenderness, what comes to mind? Comforting someone, touching someone’s shoulder when they are feeling down, and being gentle is what I think of. But tenderness actually requires a great deal of strength in certain situations.
When we encounter someone with a differing opinion than ours or someone who is acting in a way that we don’t agree with, do we always exercise tenderness in our response? Are we apt to respond quickly and admonish rather than act with tenderness? Are we quick to judge rather than understand?
As I reflect on the election season, I realize tenderness is an area in which I sometimes fail. I did have some wonderful conversations with people “on the other side” of certain issues. These conversations, I believe, strengthened those bonds and opened my mind to different views. However, there are others who I now see I did not always exercise tenderness with. I have beliefs that drive my actions, but so do others. Even two people that have been raised by the same parents could have two completely different views simply because they encountered different situations and people in their lives.
As I see it, there are winners in this election, not the candidates, but those people who can look back on conversations they had with family and friends and admit to themselves that they didn’t exercise tenderness and apologize for those situations. It takes great strength to be tender. It takes even greater strength to admit you were wrong and seek forgiveness. We need to heal from this election and this is a great place to start.
The ability to stop oneself before responding takes incredible inner strength. Mary, the mother of God, is a great example of someone who always responded with tenderness. When Jesus was a boy, they traveled to Jerusalem for Passover, after the festival was complete, Mary and Joseph left to return home not realizing that Jesus had stayed behind. After a day of traveling, they looked for him among his family and friends but could not find him. Now, imagine Mary’s terror. Where could Jesus be? How frantic would you be looking for your child in a great sea of people leaving Jerusalem. They searched for three days. After three days, they found him in the temple teaching. Now, imagine Mary’s response in “our language”, “JESUS! Where have you been? You had us worried sick! Why did you not come with us? We have been looking everywhere for you!”. Now, Jesus replies (in today’s language) “Mom, didn’t you know where to look? Of course I would be in my Father’s house! Dah.” Now, imagine you are Mary. Wouldn’t you just want to shake twelve year old Jesus and tell him “don’t you ever do that again!”. But instead, Mary responded in tenderness saying nothing and “kept all these things in her heart”. And again, fast forward 20 years as she is watching her son be scourged, beaten, chastised, spit upon, stripped naked and finally nailed to a cross to die. Watching her son climb the hill to Calvary, what did she do? She encountered him, wiped his brow and allowed him to continue, holding all of it in her heart. She knew he must die to save all of us. That is tenderness. That is the strength to look beyond self, humbling oneself for the good of others. Mary, Mother of God, pray for us that we all may exercise tenderness.