By BARBARANNE KELLY|CONTRIBUTOR
It’s Summertime here in Texas, which means that school’s out, pools and waterparks are open, and shorts and sandals are standard everyday wear. Of course, being Texas, the shorts and sandals have been in use for several months already. When the sandals come out, it’s pedicure season; the footsies need some sprucing up for their higher visibility; after all, painted toes are part of the accessory package—right? I went for my first pedicure of the season a month ago, and part of the process of getting my feet ready for sandals involved a lot of soaking and special potions and lotions before bringing out the “cheese grater” to tackle my callouses.
See, I’m a runner, and the callouses that build up on my feet are the result of many miles in my running shoes. As a result, my feet aren’t very pretty in sandals. The past several months I haven’t been running nearly as often as I ought, and when the nail technician tackled the tough build-up on my feet I let him take it all off and get down to the soft skin beneath. My feet looked and felt brand-new, smooth and tender, as I slipped them into sandals and left the salon.
Two weeks later, however, I came under the strong conviction that I need to continue running, so I laced up early one morning and went for a three-mile run. Before I reached home I knew that removing those callouses had been a mistake. When I removed my shoes and socks I was greeted with fresh new blisters on that smooth and tender skin which used to be protected by toughened, hard skin. The next several days I had to slow my pace (not that it’s ever fast) and give extra attention to my feet as I limped around with those blisters, waiting for them to toughen up again. Once they began to lose the tenderness and build up a bit of protective callous I could resume running in earnest, knowing that I wouldn’t be feeling that pain again.
In our class this week we went over chapter 6 in our book study of Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, in which Susan Hunt explores the compassion of women ministering to women. When we are ministering to one another with compassion, we are not only reflecting our unique design as women, but we are reflecting the image of our Creator God, who is compassionate toward his people. Susan shared three passages of scripture which refer to God as our helper: passages which highlight his compassion.
But you [God] do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.
…you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me.
Susan says about these passages that,
A redeemed woman’s sanctified female instincts cause her to “see” the troubled and grieving, even if they are suffering in silence. Her helper heart pities the weak and needy, and her helper hands find ways to rescue and comfort. She does not need an official position for this diaconal work. Functioning under the oversight of those who are in positions of leadership in God’s church, she does what she was created to do.
The phrase “sanctified female instincts” jumped off the page at me. Women in the culture in which we live have run so hard and so far from God’s original design as compassionate helpers that callouses have built up around their hearts and the tenderness which ought to be a hallmark of our character has been exchanged for toughness.
Paul describes this very phenomenon in Ephesians when he writes to the believers that they “must no longer walk as the [unbelievers] do, in the futility of their minds. They are . . . . alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous…” He goes on to prescribe the only remedy for this callous hardening of the heart by reminding them that they have been taught in Jesus to, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” The remedy is sanctification—of our selves, our desires, our minds—of our instincts.
Sanctification requires more than soaking and special potions and lotions and a cheese grater. Putting off our old self can only be rightly done when we are renewed in mind and re-created in the likeness of God by the working of his power. Only then can we recover our original design. And when in our re-creation we are restored to our original design in the image of our God and the callouses are removed from our hearts, we find that we can enter another’s pain with tenderheartedness and empathy. We can be the hands and feet of our Lord, as in his name we take up the cause of the helpless, taking pity on the weak and needy, bringing real help and comfort to those in need. We can bring that comfort because our softened and tenderized hearts can feel their pain.
Our Lord Jesus Christ, after all, entered our pain when he condescended to take on human flesh, being born as a helpless infant, submitting in obedience to his sinful, earthly parents out of obedience to his holy, heavenly Father, and living in this fallen, sinful, and heartbreaking world.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Because our high priest, Jesus, knows our weaknesses, we can go to him with confidence for the help we need in our own weakness. We then, as his image-bearers, can sympathize with the weaknesses of those around us, and hold out mercy and grace to help our sisters in Christ in their times of need. When we are tender to another’s pain, we can genuinely “weep with those who weep.” Jesus became a co-sufferer with us, to show us how to co-suffer with others. Sisters, remember, our Savior also wept.
Here’s the thing that blows me away: The Almighty God, omnipotent Creator of the universe, holy, just, and perfectly righteous in all his ways, has a tender and un-calloused heart. As we are being changed into his image by the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, the callouses are being shaved away from our hearts. Tenderness is not weakness. Tenderness is a gift of our loving God, built into our design, to be used for his good purposes.
When women serve in women’s ministry according to their creation design, serving the covenant community of Christ with compassion, in humble, submissive obedience to him, we show forth to the world and to the church that we are indeed, “his workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Let us serve sincerely and earnestly, looking to Jesus, our tender-hearted Savior, doing the good works for which we are created, with calloused hands and feet, and tender, un-calloused hearts.
 J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt, Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006)
 Psalm 10:14
 Psalm 72:12-14
 Psalm 86:17
 Duncan and Hunt, p.88, emphasis mine
 Ephesians 4:17-19
 Ephesians 4:22-24
 Hebrews 4:15, 16
 Romans 12:15
 John 11:35
 Ephesians 2:10