When I was just a kid, I got a bellyache that wouldn’t go away. It hurt so bad I couldn’t stand up straight or sit down without increasing the pain. Finally, my folks hauled me over to a big house in West Houston where a surgeon lived. He had turned the back section of his home into his office and clinic. It was a hot, muggy afternoon. I was scared.

Photo by Scott Alison [CC-BY-4.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

The doc decided I needed a quick exam—though he was fairly sure I was suffering from an attack of appendicitis. He had whispered that under his breath to my mom. I remember the fear that gripped me when I pictured myself having to go to Memorial Hospital, be put to sleep, get cut on, and then endure having those stitches jerked out.

Looking back, however, I really believe that “quick exam” hurt worse than surgery the next day. The physician was rough; I mean really rough. He poked and thumped and pulled and pushed at me like I was Raggedy Andy. I was already in pain, but by the time Dr. Vice Grip finished his examination, I felt like I had been his personal punching bag. To him, I was nothing more than a 10-year-old specimen of homo sapiens. Male, blond, slight build, with a 99-degree temperature, nausea, and undetermined abdominal pain on the lower right side. Never once do I recall his looking at me, listening to me, talking with me, or caring about me. Although young, I distinctly remember feeling like I bored the man—like I was case number 13 that day, appendectomy number 796 for him in his practice. Truth be told, I felt like I was an irritating interruption in his plans for eighteen holes of golf that afternoon.

Granted, a 10-year-old with a bellyache is not much of a challenge for a seasoned physician . . . but his insensitivity left a lasting impression. His lack of tender caring canceled out the significance of all those neatly framed diplomas, achievements, and awards plastered across the wall behind his desk. At that painful, terrifying moment of my young life, I needed more than credentials. Even though a little kid, I needed compassion. A touch of kindness. A gentle, considerate, soft-spoken word of assurance; and a smile would have helped. Something to cushion the blows of the man’s cut-and-dried verdict, “This boy needs surgery. Meet me at Memorial at five o’clock today.”

Photo [CC-BY-4.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

Looking back more than sixty years, I’ve learned a valuable lesson: when people are hurting, they need much more than an accurate analysis and quick diagnosis. More than professional advice. I needed far more than a stern, firm turn of a verbal wrench that cinches everything down tight.

Attorneys, doctors, counselors, physical therapists, dentists, fellow ministers, nurses, teachers, disciple-makers, parents . . . hear ye, hear ye! Fragile and fearful are the feelings of most who seek our help. Like tiny feathers, easily blown away in haste, they need to sense we are there to help because we care about them . . . not just because it’s our job. Truth and tact make great bedfellows.

Sound too liberal? Weak? Would it help if you could see that someone like the apostle Paul embraced tenderness? Although a brilliant and disciplined man, Paul was a compassionate, tender man.

For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:5–8)

Some day we shall all be on the receiving end of tenderness. We shall be the ones in need of affirmation, encouragement, a gentle touch of tenderness. It’s like the timeworn counsel of Thomas Sydenham, the “English Hippocrates” (1624–1689), who offered the following to the professionals of his day:

It becomes every person who purposes to give himself to the care of others, seriously to consider the four following things: First, that he must one day give an account to the Supreme Judge of all the lives entrusted to his care. Second, that all his skill and knowledge and energy, as they have been given him by God, so they should be exercised for His glory and the good of mankind, and not for mere gain or ambition. Third, and not more beautifully than truly, let him reflect that he has undertaken the care of no mean creature; for, in order that he may estimate the value, the greatness of the human race, the only begotten Son of God became himself a man, and thus ennobled it with His divine dignity, and far more than this, died to redeem it. And fourth, that the doctor being himself a mortal human being, should be diligent and tender in relieving his suffering patients, inasmuch as he himself must one day be a like sufferer.

All of that applies to 10-year-olds with bellyaches, 80-year-olds with backaches, anybody with a headache . . . and everybody with a heartache.

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8 thoughts on “Tenderness

  1. Thank you, Colleen! That is so kind! It is always a great blessing and “shot in the arm” to see that Swindoll logo, and know something really good is coming our way! I also want to say here (because I’m not sure where else I could post it), I am absolutely LOVING your Dad’s conversations with Ravi Zacharias. We are avid supporters of RZIM, too! I attended their 2012 Summer Institute in Wheaton and got to meet Ravi and Naomi, briefly. What a joy! Ravi’s ministry is so important, and I can see how it dovetails so wonderfully, with Insight, too!! This is what should be happening all over God’s Kingdom. God must look down and smile when he sees great leaders who are humble, appreciative of one another, and not competing, but supporting one another’s work. So rare in today’s world!! Another great blessing!! P.S. You can pass that one on, too! 😉

    • Jane,
      You are absolutely delightful! I plan to pass along your very affirming and kind note. Yes, dad and Ravi are two remarkable men; quite a shortage of them in our generation but they are not absent and hopefully their voices will remain long after they are with our Lord. I’m thrilled to know such notes are exciting to you. I love getting affirming, positive, encouraging, God-focused messages. I hope that is what you experience each and every time you hear from IFL….either me or my dad. Hope you are well…sorry for the delay in my reply; my daughter was married last night and I took time to be with her and her last few days with us as a family. Again, thanks for your kindness and I look forward to hearing more about what you have enjoyed most in the Ravi video’s. It help to know so we can know what meets the needs of those who watch them. In His abundant grace, Colleen
      Colleen Swindoll-Thompson
      From my iPhone

  2. Your dad’s story is such a good example of the importance of compassion. Skill and knowledge isn’t enough for 10-year-olds and 90-year-olds. So many applications for those who work with our kids who have special needs. Thanks for adding this to DifferentDream.com’s Tuesday link up.

  3. Colleen, can I please ask you to pray for Gene and me and share this with whatever prayer teams you choose. We are in CRISIS tonight. I have been battling a cold turned into bronchitis for 8 days, and yesterday was diagnosed with bronchitis, given 4 meds. One of them did not agree with me and we changed that. I have felt terribly sick, and frustrated that I can’t do my usual tasks. As you know I am sole caregiver for Gene, and this sickness has been hard on him, too. He has done extra things, and worn himself out. Lots is NOT getting done, and that is okay, and I have struggled with not having TLC, yet knowing Gene was doing all he could. Well, Gene also has a history of heart arrhythmia. His heart is not diseased, and he always comes through it, but he has to be hospitalized for a few days. Well, tonight his heart went into irregular rhythm, and I couldn’t take him to the ER, because they would not thank me for bringing my germs with me. A neighbor and her daughter, bless them, took him in. But I feel desperately alone and helpless, and Gene was very upset to go alone without me. He feels stripped of all his responsibility. PLEASE PRAY FOR BOTH OF US. We need a LOT of physical and emotional and spiritual healing in all of this. Gene is a wonderful person and brilliant artist, and I know he loves me dearly, and I him. I just want things to be okay for us again. And we’ve had some rough times financially and emotionally lately. I KNOW you and your people will know how to pray for us. We are in God’s hands. Pray that we both can feel that. Thank you so much.

    • Jane,
      I am praying g for immediate healing and renewed hope to for you both.i a so sorry these challenges have arisen; but I believe in the long run you will find growth and greater purpose in it all. Its so hard to see or believe that in the midst of the storm; however, there are nuggets of gold hidden between the lines. I an so praying for your healing, for Gods peace, and to His presence to be revealed. Let me know how things progress. Much love to you dear friend! Colleen
      Colleen Swindoll-Thompson