“You’re being too sensitive.”
Oh are those ever familiar words. All through my childhood they trailed after me like a tin can tied to the end of my shoelaces, with each step in danger of sending it bouncing across the floor. The sound of those words clanging along behind me made me wince until I could hardly bear to move from my spot any more. One day, when the strain of being planted in one spot got to be too much for me, I got wise, cut the string and walked away. For a long time though, the memory of that ugly sound haunted my steps. But many, many years of freedom from the constant accusation “you’re too sensitive” faded even that away until I was able to move about my world with an ease I had not dreamed was possible back when I was trying to be quiet and still enough not to send that tin can clattering across the floor.
I am sensitive. I am very sensitive. As I explained in the section of my book devoted to part of my spiritual memoir:
I was the sort of kid who felt bad for the fake Santa’s at the mall when little kids would cry in their laps. An old woman struggling to pull change out of her coin purse in front of my at the grocery store made me tear up. If the other kids were teasing the girl from special ed classes who smelled funny and dressed badly, I felt compelled to step in to help her even though that was a great way to find out that I also smelled funny and dressed badly. If you were someone I actually cared about, an angry word or harsh action could wound me down to the depths of my being.
Too sensitive – right? Only being so sensitive isn’t a design flaw in my personality some would make it out to be. It’s a main feature of my personality, gifted to me by my maker with great love and care. It’s the source of all my other giftings. It’s the reason that I, a white, upper-middle class college girl from the suburbs could go into a juvenile prison and have conversations about God and love and pain and healing with young, minority criminals from the violent projects of Chicago. Because feelings are the same no matter who you are or what you have been through. If we have nothing else in common, we are all connected by the experiences of pain and joy and betrayal and fear. Being sensitive is the reason I knew how to parent a baby so challenging that even my own dear mother dreaded having to watch him for more than a very short time. He was just doing on the outside what I had often felt on the inside. So I taught him the lessons I had learned from being such a sensitive person and he will never need to know what it’s like to feel badly simply for being the emotional, sensitive person God made him to be.
It is a gift to be so sensitive. Because emotions work like curtains pulled open and closed by a cord; as far as they are pulled in one direction, they are be pulled in the other direction as well. The same sensitivity that makes me so vulnerable to hurt also allows me to be open to the joy, peace and wonder that flow with abundance through the simplest parts of everyday life. In the middle of some misery, I can know that as deep as my suffering is in that moment, that’s how high the joy waiting for me later will be. Even in my deepest despair, I can hardly avoid experiencing the pull of a child’s love, or the beauty of nature or the pleasure of singing leading me out again.
I remember years ago a dear friend telling me, “you don’t have to be afraid of your feelings. They can’t physically hurt you, you know.” In my head I knew she was right, of course. But my heart was horrified. “Oh you foolish woman. If you understood the strength of my feelings you would know that they could kill me.” Which simply shows that a sensitive heart must also be a well-trained heart if it is to survive. But people who say, “you’re too sensitive” don’t know how to help a child learn to tame and train their wild hearts. So, I sought out every scrap of wisdom, knowledge and understanding I could find to teach myself to live in peace. The things I write on this blog are often my attempts to share some of the fruits of that quest with anyone who wants them.
Call me too sensitive if you wish. But I know that I am sensitive like the finest aviator watch that uses the motions of the adventurer wearing it in unlikely places to keep its own tiny, perfect gears moving in sync. I am sensitive like a flower that responds to sunlight and opens or a bird that senses danger and flies away long before it arrives. It is not easy being so sensitive, but even that simply drives me deeper into the arms of divine Love. Because I am exquisitely sensitive. Just like God made me to be.