I’ve been labeled many different things in my life, but the one that has seem to stuck over the years is “tender” (or “tender bear”, if you will). I seem to have developed this reputation of being tender by consistently wearing my heart on my sleeve, and being unafraid to be transparent with my emotions (much to the dismay of my closest friends who’ve had to deal with me at my most tender!). What can I say, it’s just who I am. Whatever I feel emotionally, I feel incredibly strong. I’ll cry at commercials, I’ll laugh way too loud at the movies at a funny scene, I’ll raise my arms and cry hallelujah in Worship at Church. I will write on both sides of your birthday card and tell you how much you mean to me. I’ll cry when I read your birthday message to me. Perhaps I’m genetically predisposed to this condition. My mother and sister are the exact same way. It’s been so serious that we have made it a habit to read our birthday cards alone at home to spare ourselves from the awkwardness of a public tear-fest, as being a “tender bear” is not the most socially acceptable of traits. We’re conditioned by society to stifle away whatever our hearts start to reveal – to tuck away our naivety and vulnerability and wear your poker face. “It’s a dog eat dog world out there,” and “You’ll never survive with a tender heart like that. Grow a thicker skin” are some common rebukes towards the tender bears of this world. But I disagree. I say don’t tame the tender. Don’t tuck away your vulnerability. To be “weak” is to be strong in my opinion.
A common human response to trauma or painful experiences in life is to harden your heart, to build up a barrier around yourself to deflect any future threats. This self-protective stance may escalate into bitterness, and unwillingness to trust. Or maybe you were always taught that “big girls don’t cry”, so you’ve conditioned yourself to stifle your emotions and hide them away from the world. They are never validated and felt fully, rather they are numbed out and hidden. This path may eventually lead you to completely numb yourself of feeling ANY emotions at all (even the good ones). My take on this is the opposite. I feel that all emotions are valid (although sometimes unjustified, it still arises for a reason). The more you accept and recognize your emotions as they arise, the more you learn about yourself and the stronger and more self-controlled you become. You learn to avoid pitfalls in life by not acting on sinful emotions (jealousy, lust, envy, resentment, etc), and you gain the ability to truly feel joy and love in the present moment, which is so readily accesible to you. A person that is unafraid of revealing their emotions and vulnerabilities will eventually learn to be compassionate towards others, to love others fully, to be gentle, soft, kind, patient, self-controlled. Compare this a person who chooses to stifle or invalidate their emotions, wherein they become cold, bitter, resentful, numb. Which of the two people sounds like the stronger person? Hmm….?
I don’t need to tell you that the world we live in is a mad one. Painful experiences and traumatic situations unfortunately are all part of the paths that each one of us is on. We can’t avoid them. We live in a fallen, broken world full of sinners like you and me. Choose to act counter-culturally and continue to be vulnerable. Tender bears of the world unite! Put on only the armour of God, and live fully and freely, accepting yourself and all that you are every day every hour. Liberate yourself from the chains of bitterness. Let your heart beat wild and free – and wait for the joy to pour into it.
"To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” – Criss Jami