The Tenderness of God

She left home. Angry and frustrated. She was eighteen years old. “I don’t want your God. I don’t want you!” were her last words to her parents as she slammed the door. Years passed. The father died. The mother grew older. The daughter became more entrenched in her lifestyle.

The mother however kept believing in the basic goodness of her daughter. She kept going to different churches asking simply to let them put a photo on their notice board. It was a photo of the gray-haired mother with a straightforward handwritten message, “I love you still… come home!”

And one day the miracle happened. The daughter entered into a church and saw the photo and was very much struck. She decided to go back home.

When she arrived, it was early morning, still dark. She felt nervous. She knocked at the door timidly. The door just flew open! Thinking that someone must have broken in the house, she rushed into her mother’s bedroom and shaking her awake just said “It’s me! It’s me! It’s me!”

The mother was overjoyed. The daughter was tearful. Both of them embraced each other… “I was so worried,” the daughter exclaimed. “The door was open and I thought someone had broken in!” “No, dear,” was the simple answer of her mother. “From the day you left, the door has never been locked.”

God is like this mother. He always keeps His doors unlocked so that we can come in effortlessly.

“A God of tenderness and compassion” is the first title that God claims when He appeared to Moses on Mount Sinai and which afterwards, all Scripture will give Him. Except for one occasion, when it is used of man, the adjective “tender” is always reserved to God!

Tenderness has been defined as a tendency to express warm and affectionate feelings towards someone, a soft heartedness that is a concern for the welfare of the other, especially someone defenseless.

The Hebrew word for tenderness is in fact rahamim, bowels, the intensive plural of rehem, the maternal womb. God is like a mother who feels for her children. The Scripture tells us that His tenderness is gratuitous, always on the alert, immense, inexhaustible, renewed every morning and unshakably faithful… He has actually set His affection on us and this for no reason at all! Gosh!

I came across a children’s book named ‘Awful Abigail and Why She Changed’ that speaks vividly of this aspect of God’s love. Abigail, an innkeeper’s daughter, earns her name ‘awful’ by being the kind of little girl who gets on everyone’s nerves. One night she is sent to her room, where she watches from her balcony as Mary and Joseph arrive and inquire about staying in her father’s inn. Once everyone is in bed, Awful Abigail follows a faint light that leads her to the manger. She opens the door and sees the new born baby Jesus who smiles at her, and the story ends with this wonderful line: “Somehow she knew a dream had come true, and Someone who loved her had found her.”

Yes, God is not put off by the messy, broken, sinful, awful aspects of our lives. He pursues us right into the middle of the mess. In Hosea, God talks of wooing Israel, His adulterous bride, into the wilderness. There He will “speak tenderly to her” and there He will give her vineyards and “a door of hope”.

In the Gospels we see John always only a few steps from Jesus. The night before Jesus was betrayed, there was John, leaning on His breast as though he did not want to miss a single beat. At the end of John’s life, when he was exiled on the island of Patmos at the age of 90, he was writing about Christ as “Him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood”.

Perhaps the most telling thing about John’s life is how he describes himself – openly and without embarrassment – as ‘the disciple whom Jesus loved’. John’s deepest, truest identity was centered around the reality of being loved by God. It was the essence of how he thought of himself!

Let yourself be immersed in the gentle healing tenderness of God! In experiencing this gentleness, you will always have the sensation of standing on the edge of a vast ocean with your feet barely wet, longing to swim to the other side…


(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.