When you see the word “tenderness” what do you think of? Tattoos, right? Those two words usually go together, don’t they?
Well, I can’t say I typically think of them in the same sentence. Which probably shows my inadequate understanding about body art as being portrayed by the stereotypical picture of the Hells Angel Harley-storming brute whose tattoos make him look like a modern day pirate with some dark form of the skull and crossbones etched into his bulging biceps. Not my best mental depiction of tenderness.
And yet … I have seen some beautiful skin art. I love asking a tattoo-wearing person if there’s a story behind their picture. There almost always is–a commemoration of someone or something meaningful and significant to them, or a symbol of their sense of purpose in life, or simply a depiction of something they like. I’ve heard some evocative and very moving stories from these wearers about how the pictures move them deeply and inspire them regularly.
Which at times tends to end up reminding me of how “tattoos” and “tenderness” are related, even in the divine realm. Notice this picture:
14 But you have said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
And my Lord has forgotten me.”
15 But I the LORD say, “Can a woman forget her nursing child,
And not have compassion on the son of her womb?
Surely they may forget,
Yet I will not forget you.
16 See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
You are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49)
God is pictured feeling tender love and compassion for her children. In fact, the word compassion is from the word tenderness. It literally means “cherishing the fetus in her womb.”
Think of how much care a mother gives to the baby she carries inside her. Once she learns she’s pregnant, she immediately makes some lifestyle changes to make sure the child grows in healthy ways–she stops drinking alcohol, eats more fruits and vegetables, stops smoking, tries to reduce unnecessary stress, and the list goes on. She does all this because she knows that even before the baby is born that child is nursing from her and receiving nourishment on every level. So she even sings to her baby and speaks words of love and affirmation.
And then once the child is born, tenderness continues. The same word “compassion” in this text also literally means “to fondle.” I well remember wonderful moments of tenderness when my kids were babies. One of my favorites was me leaning back on the couch, holding my baby on my chest, and feeling completely relaxed and at peace with that precious bundle of life wrapped in my arms. It was such a tender moment for me and a place of absolute safety and love for my child. That fondling expressed a powerful covenant and commitment of value I placed on my baby.
When the mother nurses her baby, her own body is changed and impacted from these acts of love and care–oxytocin is released which tends to increase the mother’s sense of wellbeing and happiness. Studies have shown that even feeding the baby with a bottle (like for fathers or a care-giver who can’t breastfeed), if the baby is held with a spirit of tenderness and loving care, releases oxytocin into the system.
So think of all this tenderness, cherishing, compassion, fondling in loving care that the parent feels for her child. Think of all of this in fact moving and transforming the parent at the same time it’s providing increasing confidence and security for the baby. This mutual, symbiotic relationship is a metaphor for the divine relationship with us.
And then the bible text reveals a stunning reality–to memorialize this tender relationship, God has tattooed our name onto Her hand. “I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; you are continually before me.”
What art display has God drawn on Her hand to depict you me? Is it a symbol of some kind? A scene? A word or few that describe my essence? Maybe even a cross carved into Her hand with my name on it? Kind of intriguing to imagine, isn’t it.
Whatever the tattoo is, She looks at it often (“continually,” says the text). And every time She looks at the tattoo She’s reminded of Her eternal love and tenderness for me. That’s why She has the tattoo. She can never forget me. Her divine essence moves and stirs with compassion every time She sees the tattoo and thinks of me. She never forgets. Like loving and nurturing parents, She loves me without conditions. There’s nothing I could ever do or not do to eradicate my identity as Her beloved child. Once a child, always a child, period, forever!
Divine body art. God’s tattoo. Infinite tenderness.
The french word for tenderness is poignant. Used in conjunction with les bras (“the arms”), the related verb entendre means “to stretch out one’s arms” in a gesture of welcoming love.
Picture it: God stands with outstretched arms eager to embrace you, hold you, enfold you in Her arms; to cuddle You in safety, longing, and intense compassion.
So next time I hit a moment of discouragement, self doubt, insecurity, uncertainty, loneliness, or weakness, I’m going to try to remember: my name, my picture, is tattooed on God’s hand; at this very moment God is looking at it, thinking of me with absolute tenderness. And She is holding out Her arms, inviting me into Her holy embrace, that ultimate, eternal place of safety and security where I remember who I am and who God is and how loved and valued I am to Her forever.
And She’s got a tattoo to prove it! I wonder what Her body art about you is like?