I have now lived in Charleston, SC for a full year. I have approximately 3 weeks left of my residency. Several weeks ago, I was praying on the beach about my future, my next step in the next season. And it was such an uncertain time of prayer.
This time last year I knew what I was heading into and for how long, with a clear path ahead. It was the culmination of 7 months of waiting.
But this time, this year, I think back on 3 weeks ago and remember not having a clear direction and resolving to pray this, “No matter what happens I ask to be tenderhearted.” And there is a strong part of me that loves that I prayed that prayer.
I love that prayer because it is my desire. I love that prayer because when I gently love and reflect on all the wonderful friends and family and enemies God has put in my life, I find it is in everyone’s best interest that I would be tenderhearted rather than hardhearted.
In Luke 1:76-79, Zechariah the father of John the Baptist prays this part of a prayer over his son:
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare a way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
What beautiful phrase, the NIV, NASB, and ESV only translate this phrase into English 1 time in all of Scripture. NKJV has multiple instances of tender mercies in the Psalms and only additionally translated “tender mercies” in the epistle to the Colossians. Why does it matter?
I believe it matters because tender mercy is the gentlest of all mercy offered. It is the kind of tangible mercy offered in the darkness, in death, when we are in desperate need of sunshine, guidance and a path of peace.
Tender mercy is the mercy needed when suffering violence. Tender mercy is the mercy for lost-ness. Tender mercy is the tangible mercy needed when there is no other answer or explanation.
And yes, while I am desperate in my need for mercy for my actions against God and humankind, sometimes we are in need of the most tender mercy for our doubts in our darkness.
I need tenderness of heart so as not to become guilty of accusing God of having a wicked character when I have suffered or am utterly confounded by my circumstance.
We need tenderness of heart to mourn more victims of violence in the face of inaction. And while those are left asking why or will this be fixed, without any answer, or worse met with indifference, we remain in need of the tenderest of mercies.
This mercy is only available through the Spirit of God. Humankind cannot manufacture this kind of mercy.
But we can posture, we can kneel. I can move ever so slightly towards the light until I am warmed, softened, embraced, then set free to love and to give what I’ve been given.
Yet, I can only give what I have, and if I have not felt this tender mercy for myself, how can I give it?
I must have it again. I must know it, be immersed, even baptized anew in this maternal, vulnerable mercy.
It’s been a tender year for me. I don’t know how it’s been so far for you. I don’t know if you’ve felt like you’ve been connecting the dots from one disappointment to the next. I don’t know who you’ve lost or how many times you’ve lost them and to what degree of permanence. I don’t know to what extent you have been grieved or have suffered by the routine of mass shootings in America. Through it all, stay tenderhearted.
Let your heart feel hope for the future, for your obedience to the Lord, to follow Christ’s lead, perhaps hopeful for finding romance, perhaps hopeful for one day reconciliation to someone who has moved on the Heaven, hopeful for an end to meaningless bloodshed, hopeful for peace on a path guided by the sunlight in the tender mercy of God.