A Tender Heart: Loving Others When They Let You Down

by Alexa Hess

Over the years I have found myself becoming more sensitive to the shortcomings of others. Instead of allowing things to roll off, I’ve been bitter or resentful. The season where I struggled the most with this was when I was working in full-time ministry. I felt like I was the one always pouring out while no one was pouring into me. This mentality led to me becoming hyper-aware of every little shortcoming. I would become bitter when someone would fail to follow up with me about getting together. Or I would take it too personally when no one had reached out to me for a week. Dwelling on these situations too long would affect the way I saw my community. I even questioned whether attempting community was even worth it in the first place if I was just going to get let down.

Have you felt this way before?

The reality is that people will let us down. Even those we hold most dear will mess up, hurt us, and fail us. What matters is what our response is when people let us down. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” As followers of Christ, our response to the shortcomings of others is kindness, grace, and forgiveness. Cultivating a tender heart rather than a bitter heart reflects the goodness of the gospel.

Having a forgiving heart does not minimize the hurt we feel. When others fail us it is okay to feel that sting of sadness and disappointment. It also does not mean we are to sweep under the rug situations of serious sin. Yet when people let us down we have a choice to make—a choice to allow our feelings to move us either inward or outward and upward. When we turn inward, we can harp on the shortcomings of others. We can stew over the situation and allow bitterness to slowly corrode our hearts. But when we turn outward we extend forgiveness to those who have let us down. We choose to love them even though they have hurt us. By turning upward we ask God for His help in cultivating a tender heart. We ask for His strength to offer forgiveness and fight bitterness. 

Turning upward also reminds us of God’s perfection. People will let us down because humans are imperfect. They are not able to do all that we wish or ask perfectly. When others let us down we can look to the God who never lets us down. Fixing our eyes on the Lord cultivates gratitude for the ways God never fails us. As we look to God we are also reminded of the ways that we fall short. We are not perfect as well, and there are times when we fail others and let them down. There is humility in recognizing our own shortcomings.

Our forgiveness to others reflects the forgiveness we have received from Christ. Jesus forgave us when we did not deserve forgiveness. On earth, Jesus was ridiculed, rejected, and scorned. Even still, Jesus went to the cross to willingly save and forgive those who hurt Him. Jesus’s heart towards sinners eternally remains tender-hearted. He extended grace and forgiveness to us on the cross and extends grace and forgiveness to us daily. Even when we mess up. Even when we let Him down. Even when we fail Him.

If Christ forgave us when we did not deserve forgiveness, how can we withhold forgiveness from others? If Christ’s heart is always warm toward us, how can we have a cold heart toward others?

The reality is, we have let God down far more times than others have let us down. Yet God is always patient with us, always extending grace and forgiveness to us. Remembering and resting in the truth of the gospel thaws our cold and bitter hearts. The more we dwell on the gospel the more we will have a heart that remains warm towards others. A tender heart toward others reflects the tender heart of Christ.

Extending love and forgiveness toward others also reflects the servanthood of Christ. When we operate with a consumer mentality in our relationships, we treat community as the means to get rather than give. Instead of being thankful for the ways people are loving us well, we can look at the ways they are failing to give to us. We can think, this person isn’t doing __ for me. As believers, we are not called to receive but to give. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look not to his own interests, but rather to the interests of others.”

By serving others we reflect Christ who did not come to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28) and who “emptied himself by taking the form of a servant…and humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7-8). As we pour out for others we reflect Christ who poured out His life for us. Jesus gave without demanding anything in return, and neither should we. True love is love that does not demand love in return. Love is sacrificial, not selfish. We love others rightly when we give without expecting or demanding something from them in return.

What would the body of Christ look like if we all chose to give rather than receive? I would imagine that it would look like heaven. We would be a people with no ounce of dissension, bitterness, or anger. But we do not have to wait until heaven to look this way. Even though we will still battle with selfishness, we have a choice every day to put selfishness to death and put on an attitude of love, kindness, grace, and humility. Let’s love as Jesus loves by being tenderhearted, even to those who let us down. 

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