|Photo by Vincent Chin on Unsplash|
I guess I shouldn't be surprised that my 2021 star word is ironic. That was also true with my very first star word (read more about that). The reason "tenderness" is ironic is that I have been dealing with severe back pain since New Year's Eve, pain so bad that it has at times had me in tears. The year has begun with literal tenderness. Maybe one of my challenges with this word is to stay tender about the pain and not get grumpy. I'm sure I'll have some grumpy moments, but I don't want to let them become the norm for me.
My first "aha" moment with this word came from reading James 5:11 in the NLT:
"We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy."
I had not realized that tenderness is a trait of God. "The Lord is full of tenderness and mercy." Several other Bible translations use the word "compassion" instead. The King James uses the word as an adjective to describe "mercy."
4184 polýsplagxnos (from 4183 /polýs, "many" and 4698 /splágxnon, "a bowel") – properly, "many-boweled," referring to full affection (intense, visceral feeling), used only in Js 5:11. (From Bible Hub)
This is a word that by definition connects with us physically. ("Many boweled" and "intense, visceral feeling") Maybe getting "tenderness" as my star word isn't so ironic after all. This is not just compassionate, but extremely compassionate, so much so that there is a physical response, along with the emotional one.
Years ago I took pride in being tough, in being the only one who didn't cry at emotional movies. Over time I came to realize that the toughness was the result of a giant wall I had built around myself emotionally, and put all the things that hurt behind that wall. But in the process I had also walled out God. When the wrecking ball came through the wall and I let God in, I cried all those pent up tears. I cried easily for months because I had years of tears to cry out. Maybe this star word is reminding me not to build another wall, or to break down whatever wall I might have already started.
The dictionary defines "tenderness" as gentleness and kindness, deep affection, and sensitivity to pain. I think all of those are qualities of God, though I wonder at the sensitivity to pain. Does God feel physically? Does God cry when we cry? Psalm 34:18 says "the Lord is close to the brokenhearted." We know that Jesus wept (John 11:35, Luke 19:41), so in a sense, God cries.
Tears alone are an insufficient measure of tenderness, I suppose, but they were for awhile my measure of a lack of spirituality in worship. When the Spirit moves, we often have tears, sometimes of pain but also of joy. I was used to churches having kleenex in the pews because there was a frequent need for it. I was surprised to find that there was no kleenex in some sanctuaries, and I saw that as a need for change, and a need for spirituality to increase. I don't know whether that was valid or not.
So far at my current church, the need for kleenex has not grown, as far as I can tell, and I haven't paid as much attention to that. I do pray for our joy to increase. Maybe our tenderness needs to increase as well. Or maybe it's just me. For now, I'll keep on inquiring of God and trust that God will lead the way.
Thanks be to God.