"Are You Overly Sensitive?"
I want this blog to be extremely practical, because the Gospel affects everything.
So, here goes. I'll start with a confession:
"Hi, my name is Pastor Blake & I'm overly sensitive."
Here's the question you and I might ask ourselves: "If I’m an overly sensitive person and get my feelings hurt easily. How can I develop a 'thicker skin' and not get hurt so much?"
That is a question that many of us in Owasso and NE Oklahoma ask. I come at this as someone who does not have a thick skin. I am someone who is wired by creation to be sensitive to how people treat each other. The issues of tone, the ways language is used, how others receive the tone, body language, looks, what voice and attitude communicates something. My own struggle with this issue began with I became a Christian twenty-five years ago, and I’ve seen how remarkably the Gospel has changed me in this area of my life. I mention that because I was someone who had a great sensitivity to the way others treated me and therefore I was cautious about relationships. I pulled away. It was like I was looking out through a lattice and asking everyone, “how are you going to view me?” “Will you hurt me if I let you into my life?” And that only made me more self-consumed, self-oriented.
The solution is not to pretend to develop thicker skin, but rather to enter into that sensitivity and own it. The problem often not the sensitivity but rather that your sensitivity is being directed the wrong way. We should be sensitive. We should be sensitive to how we’re treating each other. We should be sensitive to the nuances of language and voice and tone and all these things. But if it’s pointed in the wrong direction, then you're going to grow more self-centered; you'll be self-absorbed and easily hurt,because whenever anything happens, it offends you; it’s self-referential.
I can remember that this was a huge issue for me right at the beginning of my ministry as a campus minister at Princeton. I realized how much I was owned by “how will they think of me?” “Will I succeed?” It’s the classic interplay of pride and fear of man; it's the primal human sin. We look away from God and His universe and fill our view with "me" and what you think of me: pride and fear of man.
I would say that the goal, rather than developing “thick skin” is to understand that sensitivity is a huge gift. You know what I mean? Consider the alternative, which is being callous, which is what being thick-skinned often is. But our sensitivities ought to drive us to our relationship with God in terms of where is refuge (Psalm 73:25-26), where is safety (Prov 18:10), because the world is a dangerous place. The world will hurt us. And people are judgmental. They are snide. They are not thinking about us. They are thinking about themselves. So we are going to be hurt but where is our fundamental refuge? Is it in the vertical, in our relationship with God as his adopted children?
And then the sensitivity begins to get re-wired so that it goes the other direction. So it becomes a sensitivity toward other people. And we begin to think about, “Well, how does my life, my language come across to you?” Do I care for you? Do I use words in a way that is hurtful to the other person? I know this when I talk to a husband and a wife. Now, she said that in a way, with a flash in her eyes, that if I were him, I would feel hurt. So, how can I help her realize what she’s doing? How can I help him adjust his sensitivity. So ultimately, one of the greatest challenges here is to get over the inertia of sin that says, “It’s all about me?” Because its only through the work of the Cross that we can see this truth about ourselves. It’s scary, and yet so pervasive that it’s almost invisible. And if we understand our relationship with a God who always accepts us, then we can be free to think, not less of ourselves, but about ourselves less.
It goes back to the Cross. The awesome side of love that our Savior knows us so intimately, every hair on our head, that He truly knows us better than we know ourselves. And Jesus went to the Cross to die for us to redeem the world from all those hurtful things. And without His work, this divine re-wiring cannot happen. Because we are so well loved by the One who was resurrected from the dead, we can be re-wired. Otherwise it’s just psycho-somatic gymnastics. It’s Freud’s world to find some kind motivation to get over it on the one hand. Or, on the other hand, it’s boundaries, setting up boundaries so that I don’t get hurt.
The way Christ went to the Cross, which is then described by this ongoing characteristic at the end of Hebrews 4, “We do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize.” It has two negatives. In other words, we have a High Priest who is able to sympathize with our weakness. And that weakness biblically is having a dual reference. Part of it is our vulnerability and susceptibility to sin, to selfishness, to self orientation, to just be mis-wired. And the other part of it is we live in a world that ends in death and suffering. And we are weak in both ways, both aspects of suffering in a fallen world. And Christ sympathizes with our entire plight and he comes bringing mercy to us. And the Cross is the supreme fulfillment of all that care, in bearing our death, in bearing our sins in one single act.
But if Hebrews 4 and 5 is telling the truth, which we believe it does, then Christ continues to sympathize with us because He knows what its like to live in a broken world. And this question of being hyper-sensitive, this re-wiring does not make you vulnerable and pain free like a thick skin would. It actually makes you from a certain point of view start to bear the sorrows of the world. You actually feel more, not just for yourself, but for other people in that movement out of yourself. You want a thin skin in a sense. You’re safer because you’re in Christ, and yet you can feel wrong and can “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
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