Hypersensitivity: How Offensive!

By Beth Hyduke

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It is important to remember that when the Bible calls us to love our neighbor, it is primarily concerned with our actions towards others, not our feelings. That is why we come across revolutionary love teachings like we find in Romans 12:20-21 which tells us to do good even to our worst enemies (who we do not feel at all like being generous, friendly, or kind towards), because we are not to be influenced by evil but to overpower it with doing good. Too often, our emphasis is on how you feel towards others while our actions and behavior are completely reactionary and secondary to our feelings (ie, because our feelings have been hurt, we become withdrawn). Instead, our actions (determination to love others in spite of how we may feel about them or think they feel about us) should principally overrule our feelings in any case. We cannot always control how we feel about someone, but we can always control how we act towards that person no matter how we feel. Since we cannot actively love when we are deliberately withdrawn, we must relinquish our "right" to withdraw, which is another way of saying what we already said — we must put to death the stubborn, offended self, surrender it to Jesus, and trust that God will grant us the good feelings that are only manufactured from obedience to Him and doing what is right. In his book Mere Christianity, CS Lewis writes this: "Nobody can always have devout feelings: and even if we could, feelings are not what God principally cares about. Christian love, either towards God or towards man, is an affair of the will."

I am a runner and I have observed that when I return to the track after having been away for an extended period of time, I have to contend with blisters that inevitably form on the backs of my heels. In a very short time away from running, the skin on my feet will soften to the point where it has become unused to the repetitive friction against my sneakers that goes hand-in-hand with running several miles. If I make a conscious decision to overlook the blisters by making a daily habit of running in spite of them, they soon harden and develop into calluses, but if I allow them to dictate my running schedule, they will prevent me from going at all. Oftentimes, spiritual truth and natural truth mimic each other. When we are aware that we tend towards hypersensitivity, we can make a similarly conscious decision to make a determined habit of overlooking the personal-offense blisters that will inevitably arise from the friction of close personal relationships. Proverbs 19:11 says, "Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense." To endure in the sport of running requires that I overlook the blisters that initially form; this is a physical self-denial. To endure in the Christian walk requires that we overlook personal offenses; this is a spiritual self-denial. If we push through the initial discomfort by denying self, both physical and interpersonal blisters will inevitably develop into thicker skin.

Lastly, to keep from getting bogged down in self-pity with the very inconsequential, albeit very irritating, minutiae of life, I find it very helpful to step back and take in a broader perspective. It's what I like to call a "God's-eye-view" of things. A good place to start is Jesus Christ's life and ministry that took Him to the Cross by way of a number of humiliations, insults, afflictions, and offenses that He endured on my behalf. Then I make a mental review of the sufferings and trials undergone by the martyrs in the early church who "did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death" (Revelation 12:11). Then I remind myself of my brothers and sisters around the world, many of whom face daily persecution, hardship, torture, and death for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel. By the time I am done with this mental review, my afflictions, however great they initially seemed to be, never appear like anything much at all. In light of this wider perspective, I find that the burden I am made to carry is very light indeed. Additionally, when we do this, we find our focus shifting from temporary concerns to eternal matters. Paul puts it this way: "For our light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).

When you offend someone, you are required to sincerely and genuinely seek their forgiveness (Luke 15:17-21, Matthew 18:21-35, Ephesians 4:31-32, Colossians 3:13), trying as best you can to keep from repeating the offense in future. Once you have done that, your part is complete. Whether they forgive you or not is not your burden or your concern. Worrying about it or allowing it to discourage you from loving them unresentfully and forgiving them unreservedly is only making you susceptible to sin in your own life. Do what is right in the sight of the Lord and then move forward in faith in a positive direction. Pray about it, then let it go, seeking to draw nearer to God while consciously and deliberately abandoning self-centered feelings as "cisterns that hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13). When we draw near to God, magnifying Him and minimizing self, He promises to draw near to us (James 4:8) and to instill in us a sense of peace that helps us forbear with others and overlook personal offenses. As Psalm 119:165 reminds us, "Those who love Your law have great peace and nothing causes them to stumble."

For more, see "Unoffendable: A Review"

Bear in mind that serious hypersensitivity that does not respond to the above may be a sign of a mental illness and require the help of a mental health professional.

Image Credit: Brittney Marshall; "I wear my heart on my sleeve"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Personal-Relationships  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 6-18-15