by Kristen

A wound often remains tender after the acute pain of injury is gone.

Some places stay tender for a long, long time. Even the lightest pressure on a no-longer-visible wound triggers a pain response. Once while hiking I lost my footing and fell backwards. I landed on the sharp edge of a rock. For weeks the slightest contact with the deep bruise on my back caused shooting pain. For months the site was sensitive. Even after it healed a tender spot remained for several years. I don’t think the tenderness served any purpose two years after the fall, but a wound to the heart is different. The tender place has purpose: it can increase my awareness of other wounds. My heart—in the process of healing and after healing—can twinge when pressed upon or when it recognizes similar wounds in others.

It’s the tenderness—the vulnerability, the sensitivity—lingering in the place of a wound that makes me most able to be tender, to be gentle, to be sympathetic, to use care in the handling of hearts and minds and souls . . . mine and others’. My own tenderness becomes a lens through which to see injuries, rawness, vulnerability and the need for grace and protection. Compassion enters in and enables me to listen to others’ hearts with my own pain-softened heart.

But it doesn’t always happen that way. When a wound does not heal under the care of the Physician, the tenderness is in danger of growing tough and desensitized from bitterness. The anger, disappointment and resentment can form a thick callous over a bruised heart.

Bitterness is a non-native, invasive species that finds the soil of a wounded heart fertile ground for a takeover. It spreads rapidly, sending out runners that root into every opening, anchoring and twining itself to every available surface. It chokes out the healthy, slow-growing fruit and monopolizes the heart. Once those runners take hold, healing requires the pain and injury of ripping out the bitterness and disrupting the ground of the original wound, leaving a new, larger trauma to heal.

Yet I crave quick fixes. I shy away from the tender places. I prefer pain avoidance. I want to get past the hurting as quickly as possible. But the heartache of tenderness—the slow process of accepting and offering forgiveness over and over and over again—heals more profitably when I engage in the ongoing tenderness. Awareness of the depth and breadth of the wound guards against bitterness and cultivates tenderness to the movement of the Spirit.

There’s no formula. It’s non-linear: a wild spiral corkscrewing through the ups and downs, the pains and reliefs, the forgiveness and the un-forgiveness, the anger and the surrender, the hurting and the healing. As my tender places bump against the hard edges of life perhaps I can rein in my urge to push through the pain . . . perhaps I can be still in the tenderness.


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