A Shout-Out for More Tenderheartedness

Keith KettenringBible Insights, Christian Living, The Uncommon Journey

This week I’ve been confronted with my lack of tenderheartedness. I walked into a “delicate” situation and immediately offered my expert opinion totally oblivious to the sensitive nature of what was happening. Instead of kindly caring and helping, I assumed, judged, and reacted with ungracious words actually believing my brilliant advice was going to make the situation better. Yea…that didn’t happen!?!

So, I sit here realizing I lack a tender heart. If I have to think about being sympathetic, then I know my heart is not. It’s from the heart that the mouth speaks. Since, my heart scales high in judgment, impatience, and coldness, my words do the same.

Something’s got to be done!

If I want to become more like Jesus, I need to become more tenderhearted. I need to cooperate with the One who wept at the tomb of his friend, who spoke of a compassionate shepherd carrying a lost lamb on his shoulders, who defended a repentant prostitute, who is pictured welcoming the prodigal, who gave his life for every kind of sinner, and who embraced every child.

“Tenderheartedness” is a term we don’t hear much about let alone seek to practice. Apparently, for some, it dwells within naturally. It often gets confused with being emotional – if someone cries easily they must be tenderhearted. A dictionary would help us understand it as “having a kind and gentle nature.” I like that. I’m just not like that. I want that. But, how bad do I want that?

We can also understand being “tenderhearted” as “easily moved to love, pity, or sorrow: compassionate.” Tenderheartedness has something to do with compassion apparently. Now we’re getting somewhere because I’ve known for a long time my struggle with being compassionate. I easily love those who are easy to love but strain to love those different from me, those imprisoned by obsessive passions, and those devoted to ignorance. As you can tell, I really need help!


Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4.32

Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1 Peter 3.8

By the tender mercy of our God…  Luke 1.78

A tenderhearted person lives a blessed life; a hardhearted person lives a hard life (Proverbs 28.14; The Message). Blessed is the one who fears the Lord always, but whoever hardens his heart will fall into calamity (ESV).

Do we think of God the Father as mean and harsh or tender and loving? Our view of God will make a difference in how we view tenderheartedness. Christians who view God as primarily vindictive, angry, punitive, and disciplinary will have difficulty reconciling his mercy, kindness, gentleness, and goodness. However, all they’d need to do is realize the Father’s actions in the story of the Prodigal son to open their hearts to a loving God. That’s something we all need to do.

How does a heart become tender? Surprisingly, we can use the analogy of tough meat to answer the question.

8 Simple Ways to Make Tough Meat (and Human Hearts) Tender
  1. Physically tenderize the meat. For tough cuts like chuck steak, a meat mallet can be a surprisingly effective way to break down those tough muscle fibers. “What doesn’t break us makes us stronger” goes the saying. But, suffering and tribulations can also make us tender if we let them do their tenderizing work. Unlike meat, you and I have a will that can prevent struggles from doing their softening work. We can become hardened and bitter, unforgiving and cynical towards God and people if we put up defenses of pride, even playing the victim if necessary. Yet, trials can help us become more like Christ who certainly had his fair share of suffering while on earth. Allow life’s difficulties to soften your heart.
  2. Use a marinade. Acidic ingredients like lemon juice, buttermilk, and vinegar add flavor and break down tough protein fibers. When received well, “normal,” everyday challenges gently penetrate our crusty exterior transforming our inner being into kindness and gentleness. When injected directly into our emotions or intellect, these challenges taste bitter. But, when applied moderately and regularly into our heart and soul, we become a more compassionate, understanding person.
  3. Don’t forget the salt. Salt draws out moisture helping to concentrate the flavor and acting as a natural brine. Scriptures act as salt bringing to the surface issues which prevent our being tenderized. This is really true as we meditate on scripture. The process of engaging heart and mind with what is written, “hearing it as if for the first time,” draws our heart towards Jesus helping us become more like him. Jesus does his best work with those who have “ears to hear.”
  4. Let it come up to room temperature. This is the gentlest of all tenderizing processes for frozen or cold meat. Perhaps begun in the fridge then completed in the kitchen, the meat is simply sitting quietly allowing the environment to do its work. No drama, trauma, harshness, or foreign substance needed. These are time periods when little seems to be happening but much is being accomplished. Sit quietly and be warmed. Receive and engage what God has already put in place.
  5. Cook it low-and-slow. Budget cuts of meat with tough muscle fibers need constant but low heat to break down collagen. These special cuts need special treatments. They don’t fry up quickly. We who don’t bring much to the table can be made delicious when we allow the warm and slow work of God to break us down. Think pulled pork in the smoker at 250 degrees for 8-10 hours. It takes a lifetime of enduring and persistent relationship with God to create tenderness reflective of His own.
  6. Hit the right internal temperature. Various meats have various “doneness” temperatures. So do humans. We all tenderize at different rates. Even more, it’s the internal temperature that matters. The externals may impress others but the internals matter most to God. That’s why it’s called tenderHEARTedness. When the heart is tender, thoughts and actions follow. Superficiality for meat and for the Christian hides bacterial and fibrous forces which fester and putrefy over time. It’s out of the heart, Jesus teaches, that all kinds of evil and all good proceed.
  7. Rest the meat. Without rest, meat can become dry and tough as juices spill out instead of redistributing within the meat. Rest is a significant element in becoming tender like Christ. Jesus invites us to come to Him to find rest for our souls as we enter his relationship with the Father and learn humility from him (Mathew 11.25-30). In union with the Lord, we enter and experience rest. Gone are the heat and pressure needed earlier to make us tender. Now we reside in the tenderness actualized within. Tenderness characterizes who we are.
  8. Slice against the grain. All cuts of meat have long muscle fibers that run throughout them. Cutting crosswise against the fibers breaks them and makes the meat more tender to chew. Yet, we have the tendency to resist being rubbed, let alone cut, against our grain. We don’t like it when people challenge us against our will – refuse to do what we ask, contradict us or don’t do “it” our way. However, it’s in those moments that our pride and self-centeredness are confronted, doing a sanctifying work within, if we allow it. Our “fibers” can resist, defend, and harden or they can be tenderized and softened. To become tender and gentle, we must allow ourselves to be sliced across the grain.

(adapted from: www.tasteofhome.com/article/how-to-make-tough-meat-tender/)

Warning: Soft & Mushy

I don’t know if this is an issue with most of us, but we need to be careful not to let ourselves become “tenderized” to the point of becoming mushy. There’s a world of difference between being firm yet tender and being hardened like a rock.

Mushy meat is gross. And gelled milk stinks. Yet, most of us enjoy a juicy, tender rib-eye and a beautifully aged slice of Colby. The tenderizing process is different for each of us.

The point is, we who are not now very tenderhearted, need to readily allow the processes of tempering to take effect.

Christians need to be solid, strong, sturdy, and substantial without being extremely rigid and tough. We need to be gentle and kind in our strength…like Jesus.

Apart from living in the life of Jesus Christ through the Spirit, this is impossible. However, experiencing more of life in Christ will also make us more tenderhearted.

Open yourself up to becoming more tenderhearted beginning with praying for it as you seek to live in Christ and in the Spirit. Then, instead of resisting God’s tenderizing processes, allow all that happens to you to make your heart gentle and kind. Please pray this for me, too.

Please comment on being tenderhearted below. When you do, I’ll pray for you as well.

Dr. K/Keith