The Middle Frosting
Advertising sticks with us. Remember, “Cause a kid will eat the middle of an Oreo first and leave the chocolaty outside for last”? I not only did that but I tried to peal the middle out of one Oreo and put it with the middle of another Oreo to form the first “Double Stuffed” Oreos. I am still bitter than I have received nothing from Nabisco for my invention. While the middle of an Oreo receives much attention, there is a middle that is often neglected (how about that transition?! Smooth). Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We often find ourselves encouraging our children, and even ourselves, to be kinder. To be nicer. We even teach our children to seek and give forgiveness to one another. We make them say they are sorry, or better yet, please forgive me. We then encourage the offended child to accept the apology. We hardly ever, though, teach our children to be tenderhearted. We rarely speak to our own hearts about being tenderhearted.
I suppose that is because we believe that being tenderhearted is not a transaction. You can do kindness. You can go through the steps of forgiveness. They are things that can be taught while being tenderhearted is more of a heart attitude. How do you teach a heart attitude? I think that is where we are a bit misguided. We do the same thing with love and yet Paul teaches us in I Cor 15 that love is a choice to act in a certain way. Love chooses to be kind, gentle, patient, etc. Just as love can be chosen, so can being tenderhearted. You can learn to be compassionate. You can learn to have empathy. You can learn to feel the hurt and pain of others. It may come more naturally for some more than for others but we can all learn to feel more compassion.
Don’t you feel that is what is missing today? We know when we have been unkind. We understand that we need to forgive others. But haven’t we forgotten how to be compassionate and empathetic toward one another? Is that why people have to shout so loudly to be heard? I can act kindly toward you but feel nothing for your situation. While if I truly felt compassion for you, then kindness and forgiveness would come more naturally.
How did we lose our emphasis on compassion? The answers are too long for this little blog but it happens slowly over a period of time. We have been burned once too many times. We have opened up our hearts and have been hurt by loss or by the coldness of others. We begin to feel that we are called to solve everyone’s problems. We become overwhelmed and then we stop listening and seeing. We begin to turn inward and feel that no one understands us. The more we demand that others understand our circumstances we fail to see others. We stop understanding just how much Jesus has had compassion on us. There are a hundred small ways that our hearts slowly become hard.
So how do we teach or relearn tenderheartedness? We first look to Jesus. We remember the depth of compassion and empathy that he has had for us. How he humbled himself and became obedient because of his compassion for us. Secondly, we force ourselves to slow down enough to truly see and hear others. We do not assume that we know their situations but we ask good questions that allow us to truly hear from others. As we listen to their stories we pray that God will give us the eyes and ears of Jesus so that we can see each individual as he sees them. Lastly, we seek the wisdom of God to know what he would have us do. We say with Isaiah, “Here am I Lord, send me”. Are we to simply listen and give a hug? Are we to rally the church to help? Are we to be part of the solution for this person? We must remember that God is the solution to each problem...we are not but if he desires to use us, then we will respond in obedience. Compassion, empathy, and tenderheartedness can be a great burden but it is the heart of Jesus.
Lately it seems that many Christians have forgotten about being tenderhearted. They find it easier and easier to be unkind and to have relationships that are filled with unforgiveness. We give many excuses for this, but a lack of a tender heart should be high on the list. We have ceased trying to know people that we disagree with. We have no empathy for why people are the way they are. We have forgotten the tenderheartedness of Jesus. Jesus looked at the crowds and was moved with compassion. He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. He saw past the anger, past the sarcasm and vitriol and he saw the needs and the hurts. He then provided the answer. We have that same answer but we will never be able to share him if we do not see and hear as he does. Work on being tenderhearted today.