I had the opportunity to spend a few days with my brother and sister-in-law in New York, recently. My brother is suffering from ALS and is experiencing deep and significant loss of physical ability and strength. In ways seen and unseen, his body is shutting down.
As I visited, I was struck by the fruits of a deep and abiding love between them. Caring for someone who has no use of arms or hands—whose muscles are wearing out throughout his body—is constant and trying. Yet, I was profoundly moved by the tenderness shared between them.
Pope Francis suggests that today, more than ever–in a world of brokenness, conflict, and trauma—we need a revolution of tenderness. Tenderness is a simple, often overlooked trait that doesn’t build careers or amass wealth. Yet he states, “far from being reduced to sentimentalism, tenderness is the first step in overcoming the withdrawal into oneself, to emerge from the self-centeredness that ruins human freedom.”
Understanding tenderness through the lens of our faith, Pope Francis said, expresses “the beauty of feeling loved by God.” We are filled, inspired, and drawn to share this love. Indeed, tenderness expressed to our family, friends, neighbors, or strangers, communicates in a concrete way an understanding of God as love.
“God’s tenderness leads us to understand that love is the meaning of life,” said Pope Francis.
As I reflect on the power of tenderness and the presence of God in these simple acts, I am reminded of a man I knew who fought late-stage cancer many years ago. He was a man of significant accomplishments and success in business—and a man of great faith and gratitude. As his disease progressed, he continued to make significant progress on projects—until one day when the projects were complete. At that point, he wrestled with deep questions about the purpose of his life.
Through acts of genuine tenderness from his wife, family, and friends, he came to know that his purpose in life was purely and singularly to bring love to all. As he let go of all competitiveness and need for success and grew to know himself as the Beloved child of God, he was called to pull that truth down into the ordinariness of what he said, thought, spoke of, and acted upon to all.
Understandably, my brother is wrestling with the progression of his disease. Acceptance is not a linear process—and he finds moments or grace and moments of struggle. Those of us who know and love him want to imprint on him the words of Henri Nouwen from the book Life of the Beloved, “All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved.’ And all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being— ‘You are the Beloved.’”
“When people feel truly loved, they feel able to love, too,” Pope Francis said. “Furthermore, if God is infinite tenderness, then people — created in his image — are capable of tenderness, too.” We are all facing struggles and joys, experiencing brokenness and healing. May we wrap our lives in the knowledge that in God’s love, “whatever happens, whatever we do, we are sure that God is near, compassionate, ready to feel moved by us.” May we live in this tenderness.
Director of Christian Life