The Radical Tenderness of Advent Love

In the final week of Advent, we light the candle of love. This kind of Love entered our world as a baby, and lived on this earth so we could learn how to live in response. This love is a radical love; love in its highest form; not merely a warm fuzzy feeling, but a love that is willing to be trampled upon so others can be saved. In response to this love, we should be willing to do likewise and love others with the same tenderhearted, self-sacrificial love that Jesus showed us. 

1 Peter 3:8 says, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” But what does it mean to be tenderhearted? When I think of the status of my heart after years of formal and informal ministry with young people experiencing homelessness, the word “tender-hearted” fits, but what first comes to mind isn’t the traditional “compassionate” sense of the word. No, instead I think of the strong image of a meat-tenderizing mallet. The Oxford Dictionary defines tenderizing as “Making (meat) more tender by beating…” In the years that I have spent in street ministry my heart has certainly been subject to this less pleasant form of “tenderizing.” I have lost dozens of friends to overdose and suicide. I have placed my fingers softly in prayer on the knife scars and rope-burns of friends who have attempted suicide. Unspeakable stories of abuse and terror have been entrusted to me, and my heart has taken a beating.  I have endured sleepless nights, nightmares, stress related illnesses, and even now, uncontrollable tears as I recall these years. 

Yes, my heart has been tenderized, but in this process I have actually become more patient, sensitive, and compassionate. This is the mystery of spiritual growth in suffering: That somehow, in the apparent breaking down and letting go, we receive life. Too often we think we can sidestep this process, seeking to follow Jesus without personal loss or pain, but Jesus is clear that if we follow Him we will suffer as He has suffered (John 16:33, 1 Peter 4:12-19). This is the mysterious blessing of being a member of Christ’s body: That we share in His pain, His death, and, thanks be to God, His resurrection. 

To his disciples Jesus says, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Mt. 11:28-30) This is not only an invitation for us to join Christ in His work, but also the hopeful promise that we are joined to a Savior who has ultimately conquered all pain, suffering, and even death. Jesus is here inviting us to be tenderized, with the accompanying steel backbone of reassurance that He has overcome.

In my life, that invitation has taken the form of a life shared with homeless and formerly homeless young people. For you, it may mean going deeper with lonely neighbors who need a place to share their brokenness. It may mean babysitting for a single mom. It could mean using your recovery experience to lead a support group. In whatever ways God might be calling you to a life of costly tenderheartedness, please dare to answer that call. And do not fear, for the one who calls you is the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us, and He is faithful.

Check out the weekly newsletter of your CTK / Grace congregation for community ministry opportunities to show Christ’s love in your neighborhood. 

Dr. Alice Rouse Colegrove has attended CTK since 2000, in Cambridge and now the JP/Roxbury congregation. She has worked in formal and informal ministry with homeless youth in Boston and Cambridge for 15 years, including the "Sanctuary Arts community" that CTK Cambridge hosted. She currently works at the Department of Public Health on a federal grant improving outcomes for the chronically homeless population with occurring substance use and mental health disorders.  She is married and has three children, River, Eli and Shepherd.