Tender Purpose

Late yesterday afternoon and again this morning, I watched and listened to the YouTube replay of yesterday’s Sunday service for my church. The theme and topic of the minister’s sermon was “tenderness.” The woman who introduced the day’s service, always vibrant and welcoming, seemed especially spirited and genuine. I think anyone who was introduced to the church by watching yesterday’s video would have felt a sense of authentic welcoming at the start of the sermon. And the minister’s presentation was heartfelt and moving.

After watching the video, I wished I had been able to participate in yesterday’s Zoom conversation about the sermon. The topic, tenderness, struck a chord with me. For me, the concept gets at the heart of what I hope we’re all after in our dealings with other people. Though we often allow ourselves to get derailed or, more frequently, derail ourselves, I think most people seek out tenderness, whether they recognize that is what they are after, or not. The “dramatic moment,” one of the signature elements of the minister’s sermons, was a video I have seen several times on Facebook. Children, as they entered their classroom, touched an image on the wall next to the entry door to signal to their teacher, who greeted them as they entered, how they wished to be welcomed into the classroom. A valentine’s heart signaled they wanted a hug, a pair of hands said they wanted a high-five, and a musical note indicated they wanted a little “dance” with the teacher. I hadn’t consciously equated the interactions between the children and the teacher with “tenderness” before watching the sermon in full, but as I listened and watched, it became clear to me that giving the children a say in how they wished to be greeted was, indeed, a moment of tenderness. And, the more I think of the message and of my own feelings about interactions with people, the more aware I become that my own quest for tenderness, both giving and receiving, is important to me. The key, I think, is for me to behave in tender ways; to show tenderness, not necessarily overtly, but at least as a foundation of how I engage with others. Too often, my interactions are guided by skepticism, guardedness, fear, mistrust, or other shields against emotional injury. I wonder what proportion of people “in the world” are, like me, suspicious and behave in ways they think are self-protective but, in fact, keep others at a safe but uncomfortable distance? Who knows? I don’t. At any rate, tenderness is among the millions of things on my mind this morning.


My wife’s sister visits me regularly, coming over in the morning to have coffee, talk, and play Words with Friends on our smart phones as we sit across the table from one another. Her visits started while my wife was in the hospital and rehab and have continued since my wife died just before Christmas. I think those visits may well have kept/are keeping me moderately sane. Many—maybe most—days those are the only interactions I have with other people, aside from an occasional phone call or email.  That’s not really new, though, in that when my wife was at home, we were one another’s only company most of the time. Perhaps that’s why I think of myself as a loner. But a couple of days ago a friend commented about my frequent suggestions that I’m a loner, saying ” I see you more as someone who equally enjoys being with his friends and savoring solitude.” And I agree with it. I do deeply value my solitude, but I feel energized and alive when I am able to spend time with good, friendly people. Without expressly acknowledging it, I think I of those times as “tender” times. I suppose the sermon is infecting my thinking this morning. I am curious as to whether I’ll let the infection spread to other aspects of my thought processes. Hmm.


Sometimes, reading others’ thoughts about reality using words and approaches I normally do not consider are worth as much to me as days and days of intense introspection. Here’s one such depiction:

Enlightenment is like the moon
reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet,
nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
the moon is reflected
even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
are reflected in one dewdrop
on the grass.

~ Dōgen Zenji ~

This is not new to us, of course, but it merits an occasional moment of focus. Considering that he expressed those thoughts between 1200, when he was born, and 1253, when he died, the ideas he documented have been with us for a very, very long time. Those little focal moments when we give deep thought to old ideas brought forward to modern life can change the course of our lives, if we let them. And, naturally, if we want to change course.


Today I must track down the church parking lot bidder to clarify his bid and his understanding of our wishes. The day has a purpose. Or, at least, I have a purpose for the day.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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2 Responses to Tender Purpose

  1. It’s not just you, Lumpling. You’re right. Openness, sincerity, and frivolity all join tenderness as desires for our engagement with others.

  2. Tender Lumpling says:

    Openness, sincerity, frivolity, tenderness… All part of what I think we want out of our interactions with people… But, maybe that’s just me…

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