I love people-watching. Whether it’s at the airport or restaurant, the workplace or church, I learn about life by observing others. There are the bossy types, who lead more by command than action. The people-pleasers, who sacrifice their own needs to accommodate someone else’s. The know-it-all’s, who often cover insecurity with arrogance. The angry ones, whose lash isn’t directed at the target; it’s where the roots are that matters. Strange that the more I study others, the more I discover in myself.
Just this week I was reminded of another type of person: the oversensitive soul. I have usually considered myself to be a compassionate person, one who sympathizes with others’ weaknesses and seeks to encourage the downtrodden. But when Billy* walked into my office, I was amazed how quickly my supposed compassion turned into irritation. God, where does that even come from?
Billy had concerns he wanted to express, and I listened, nodded, and said I could understand where he was coming from. He brought up instances as simple as the time we passed in the hallway and I had smiled and said hello but didn’t stop to talk; or a word spoken three months ago in a conversation I couldn’t even remember. I explained that nothing hurtful was intended in any of those details and to please forgive me for the offense.
Billy stood up and began to pace. “I need you to understand how that affected me.”
Seriously? Did I need to stop and talk every time I saw him? I didn’t have time for this. I took a deep breath. “I can see that it affected you, but it wasn’t intentional, just part of the normal course of any day.”
The conversation continued, but with little resolution. How do you explain to someone that you’d love to say “Hi” without feeling guilty if you didn’t have time to talk for 30 minutes? That oversensitivity crumbles when each person feels secure in who they are and whom they belong to? That with freedom comes a sense of security?
I kept a plaque for years that encapsulates this freedom: “Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with a breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”
Jesus came to set us free. Why do we walk in bondage, enslaved by others’ opinions? Walking on eggshells to placate the oversensitive soul? Held captive by fear or guilt?
Freedom in Christ brings openness and acceptance. Freedom to discuss and even disagree, with security and love.
I want to be free.
Jill Morikone is vice president and chief operations officer for Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN), a supporting Adventist television network. She and her husband, Greg, live in southern Illinois and enjoy ministering together for Jesus.
* Not his real name.