While gazing at a cluster of bleeding hearts, I remembered the importance of having a tender heart in every area of life. God calls us to be tenderhearted (Ephesians 4:32, 1 Peter 3:8). The one with a tender heart remembers who God is and what Jesus has done, gives freedom to the Spirit to bring change, and desires wholeness within the family of God. This may feel like an unrealistic goal, but this is not one we strive for alone.
God has given us the tools to become tender for the Kingdom.
We are all familiar with the gifts that God has given to form, reform, and transform us into the image of Christ: worship; prayer; Bible study; generosity with time, talent, and treasure; seasons of fasting, abstinence, and solitude; and service to others. To paraphrase John Wesley, we know that the Christian life includes doing good, avoiding evil, and loving God with everything we have. We know these things, we want to do these things, and we have seasons when we do not live as we desire. We feel completely inadequate as Christians.
It’s okay to feel inadequate.
It’s okay to feel angry about what appears to be unreasonable expectations. It’s okay to feel guilty about being angry. Feelings are feelings — they are neither good nor bad. Our response to the feelings is what matters. Step by step, moment by moment, we make decisions about who we will become.
Those tiny actions and points in time are what we have to offer God, and God will guide us away from guilt and negative feelings into a life that is bigger, brighter, and more blessed than we could have imagined.
- Have you stopped going to church because you are absolutely exhausted on Sunday mornings? Maybe it is time to find an evening service until your life enters a slower season. Perhaps it is time to find a mid-week service. Every service of worship is an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to make your heart tender.
- Are your prayers on the fly? “Arrow” prayers, breath prayers, and other one word or one sentence prayers are acceptable to God. Why hold yourself to a standard of prayer that is not realistic for you? Jesus said that God does not hear us for our many words (Matthew 6:6–8). Just make a habit of sending these short, sweet prayers heavenward often.
- Can’t make it to a formal Bible study? Does your Bible have dust on the cover? Take the small step of signing up for a daily devotional to be delivered to your inbox or phone each day. You can read the text and meditation as you ride the subway, bus, or light rail, or when you first boot up the computer at work. God can work through just one verse to mold you into the person he created you to be.
- Are you over-committed? Women frequently have an inability to just say, “No!” For some reason, we just feel guilty turning down business opportunities, family commitments, and social events. God tells us that it is desirable to pull back for a season to get grounded and centered. If Jesus retreated with his followers (Mark 6:31) from time to time and we follow him, it only makes sense to sometimes say, “No!” and use that time in a godly way. These are the moments when God can do amazing things in shaping our spirits and “tenderizing” our hearts.
- Do you have limited time? If you don’t have the ability to go on a weeklong mission trip, do you have just one hour to knit a baby blanket? One hour here, one hour there — pretty soon a child born in poverty will have a blanket made with love covering their tiny body. Can’t knit? Maybe you are the person who writes a check to help keep the soup kitchen open. There are small ways to give and serve that help others and allows the Spirit to work wonders in your heart.
As our hearts grow more tender by the work of God within, the world experiences God’s grace through us.
We become more gentle and loving daughters, spouses, mothers, friends, mentees, and employees. We are able to work through issues in a way that honors the humanity of those around us and brings glory to God. We treat our aging parents tenderly and as they “do not go gently into that good night” (Dylan Thomas) so that they keep their dignity. We respond to our spouses’ “quirks” with humor and patience and rediscover our delight in their uniqueness. We delight in our children and no longer discipline out of frustration but because we want them to grow into a loving, faithful, productive member of the family, church, and community.
As our hearts grow tender and sensitive to God’s promptings, we are able to help our friends, mentees, and employees find their way in this world. For example, rather than let go of an employee, we help them move on to their true calling.
Tender hearts are not weak hearts. They are hearts shaped by God to bless the world and bring God glory.
About Carol Pazdersky
Carol Pazdersky is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church. She serves the faith communities of St. John’s UMC in Lutherville, MD, and Idlewylde UMC as lead pastor. As the member of the District Committee on Ministry, Carol has mentored other women as they answer their call to ministry. On a daily basis, Carol ministers with women who are seeking to balance their personal, professional, and spiritual lives. She is a wife, mother of three young adults, friend, and animal lover and on the same journey to find balance.