When should we show tenderness and bigheartedness—the “velvet” qualities? And when should we be like steel—firm and resolute?
“Not often in the story of mankind does a man arrive on earth who is both steel and velvet, who is as hard as rock and soft as drifting fog, who holds in his heart and mind the paradox of terrible storm and peace unspeakable and perfect . . . And the incomparable Abraham Lincoln . . . is an approach if not a perfect realization of this character.”
—Carl Sandberg, joint session of Congress
marking the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birth,
Feb. 12, 1959, Congressional Record , Vol. 105, p. 2,265.
As author Aubrey Andelin noted in his book Man of Steel and Velvet , only one human being ever fully modeled the best aspects of firm determination and gentle caring, though a few others have set admirable examples: “Christ stands alone. None can be compared to Him. However, in a modest way other great men have left a mark that will not be forgotten. Such is Abraham Lincoln, who was described by [his biographer] Carl Sandburg as possessing qualities of steel and velvet . . .
“Lincoln demonstrated then and now how a person can possess both a will of iron and a heart of tenderness. Nothing deterred the president during the American Civil War from his ‘noble’ cause, and few persons have ever endured more criticism and detractors than Lincoln. Yet he was no more a man of steel than one of velvet” (1972, p. 15).
How can we tell when it’s the right time to be tender (apply the velvet qualities) versus firm (the steely characteristics)? After all, if the velvet approach is used when the steel would be better, we could end up with a colossal failure on our hands. And we shouldn’t confuse an iron will with hardheaded stubbornness.
Part of what made Abraham Lincoln great was his discernment of when to apply steel and when to use velvet. Likewise, true godly character can be defined as doing the right thing at the right time and for the right reason.
Motivational author Steve Groodier wrote: “Another courageous American, Martin Luther King, Jr. some hundred years later [after Lincoln’s death], encouraged us to exhibit tough minds and soft hearts . . . not the other way around. Be mentally tough; your resolve and determination will overcome great obstacles along life’s path. But let your heart be soft; your compassion and love will make the journey worth it” (“Men of Steel and Velvet,” Life Support Systems Newsletter, Dec. 1, 2009, p. 1).
She invited the king and Haman, the king’s chief counselor who was behind the Jewish death sentence, to a private dinner.
Ultimate steel and velvet
The perfect example of the man of steel and velvet is Jesus Christ. Notice His velvet qualities: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Jesus displayed His steely side when dealing with the greedy money changers at the temple: “Then Jesus went into the temple of God and drove out all those who bought and sold in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. And He said to them, ‘It is written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer,” but you have made it a den of thieves’” (Matthew 21:12-13).
There are dozens of men and women of steel and velvet in the Bible—like Moses, Joshua, Deborah, Ruth, David, the prophets, and many men and women of the New Testament. Their examples would make a very good Bible study for young men and women who want to develop these qualities of steel and velvet.
God wants you to, but do you personally want to become a man or women of steel and velvet? I can guarantee that if you choose to pursue this aim, it will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make!
>> Reprint with permission from Vertical Thought Magazine, published by United Church of God.