Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tenderness I Cannot Bear

In the play Man of La Mancha, the Don Quixote’s love interest sings these words:
“Blows and abuse I can take and give back again.  Tenderness I cannot bear”.  The song she is singing is an attempt to convince Don Quixote that she is not Dulcinea, a princess who is the epitome of beauty, chastity, charity, and grace, but rather Aldonza, a “kitchen slut reeking of sweat”.

“Tenderness I cannot bear” resounds deep within my heart.  Dulcinea/Aldonza is a woman well acquainted with sorrow who has taken her lot in life to be the maid and prostitute of mule-drivers. Over the years she’s steeled herself to both pain and pleasure (after all to her  “one pair of arms is like another”).

I read through some Wounded Heart tonight.  The chapter I started on was on betrayal.  One of the lines that struck me to the core of my heart was:
The [abused] child does not have the intellectual understanding or the contrasting experience of a nourishing home to evaluate the shortcomings of his own parents and siblings.
Until recently this statement remained true of me.  In many ways I was still an abused, childish man who didn’t realize the full extent of the damage done to my soul in my childhood home intentionally and through neglect. 

In recent months I feel like I’ve been stepping more and more into manhood for the first time. But that transition is not the important variable in this equation.  What is important and what has brought about change is the fact that I have witnessed and begun to understand the  “contrasting experience of a nourishing home”.  It has been heartbreaking to say the least.

What could have been first-hand experiences of tenderness have glanced off my heart, which like the heart of Aldonza/Dulcinea is protected against any feeling: good or bad.  Compliments and emotional nourishment offered by members of my church family (especially from Renee Wurzer) have gone unheeded by my heart.  Thankfully, I have been witness to others being the object of tenderness and it is these moments that have softened my heart and caused me to be introspective, starting the process of healing in my life.  One instance in particular stands out to me and still brings tears to my eyes (in fact I was a sobbing mess in Racy’s tonight when I remembered it).

I was meeting with my friend Perry, who also is my pastor, at his house. For several days prior to me visiting his 3 year-old daughter had been extremely sick and was still hadn’t fully recovered by the time I stopped by.  During our time together she came into the office, climbed on Perry’s lap, and in whispers asked for food, medicine, and a bubble bath.  Perry’s tender response undid me and continues to do so to this day, months later.  I had never been such an intimate witness of tenderness like that, much less experienced it for myself.

One of my goals for August (a month of break during my academic year) is to “Fall more in love with God”.  To do that I need to give into the tenderness he’s offering me.  All too much like Aldonza/Dulcinea, the experience of true unadulterated tenderness without strings attached is just awkward for me, almost unbearable.  I’m accustomed to dealing insults, emotional abuse, being shamed for physical attributes and lack of performance, etc and know how to dish those things out on others.  Things like affirmation of my good character, compliments, grace, kindness, and love are all unfamiliar to me and I don’t know how to respond to them.  Part of me “falling more in love with God” over this next month (and the rest of my life) will be learning how to believe in God’s love for me and how to properly respond to it.

It’s going to be unfamiliar, awkward, and unsettling. But I need to believe in the end it’s going to be worth it, that the pursuit of loving Christ will bring me the best life possible. It will not devoid of sorrow, heartbreak, and sacrifice but it all will have a purpose: my sanctification, God’s glory, and the restoration of the broken world I live in.

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