There is good sensitive and then there is too sensitive, bad sensitive. Often people are both. I’m both. I’m often rightly sensitive to the hurt others may feel but also wrongly sensitive, sensitive to a fault, being much too easily hurt by others or saddened by things that shouldn’t. Though I’ve had ongoing reflection on my over-sensitivity, in recent weeks I’ve deliberately focused the conversation on this topic with some Christian friends who themselves are admittedly overly sensitive as well. There seem to be some trends. People who tend to be hurt or saddened easily also often have a natural inclination towards empathy, towards sensitively seeing the ways that people around them might be hurting and could use encouragement or help. For the sensitive person, there may be an intuitive aching with those who ache or a natural disposition and desire to carry the burdens of others. These are really good things. That's the good kind of sensitivity.
The bad sensitive, the too sensitive, is pretty obvious. There are so many times when words spoken or things done have unintentionally caused my heart to grieve and instead of overlooking or absorbing the insult and deliberately seeking out the good in another, I’ve felt stung, allowing the sadness to linger far too long.
The advice of some might be, ‘Toughen up!’ or, ‘You need a thicker skin.’ But here’s the thing: I don’t want to toughen up or develop calloused, thick skin. I want to keep a soft heart and a tenderness towards pain, whether mine or someone else’s. At the same time, being too easily hurt or quickly saddened can all too naturally be the first step down a path towards resentment or bitterness.
A phone conversation from many months ago comes to mind, the words spoken then still fresh now. In the morning, before this phone call, a close friend of mine had unintentionally done something hurtful to me and my kids. What she said was concrete and legitimately hurtful, and yet on her part entirely unintentional and not sinful. My friend had left our place and my heart was heavy, tears still wet on my face, when the phone rang. Because it was the recognized number of my parents’ house, I answered. My Dad immediately detected sadness in my voice and asked if I was OK. I explained the situation and the hurtful things that had been said. I shared my sadness and even slight anger. And then I waited to hear him, my always-protective Pop, affirm me and validate my hurt feelings. But he did something different. He did something wonderful. He spoke freeing, grace-filled words of truth.
What my Dad spoke into my heart that morning is true. There really is a choice when we are hurt or offended. And there is such power and freedom in absorbing the offense and making the choice to pursue love instead of sinking into sadness or bitterness.
There is a time to confront and there is a time to forbear. Scripture actually says a lot about both, and, in certain cases, it no doubt takes sanctified wisdom to know which course is right. But when sin is not involved and the issue is merely that we’ve been hurt or offended, a biblical option is quiet, loving forbearance. In this, there is such freedom and grace.
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. ~ Ephesians 4:2