speaking & hearing the truth

The more we learn to allow the other to speak the Word to us, to accept humbly and gratefully even severe reproaches and admonitions, the more free and to the point we ourselves will be in speaking. One who because of sensitivity and vanity rejects the serious words of another Christian cannot speak the truth in humility to others. Such a person is afraid of being rejected and feeling hurt by another’s words. Sensitive, irritable people will always become flatterers, and very soon they will come to despise and slander other Christians in their community. But humble people will cling to both truth and love. They will stick to the Word of God and let it lead them to others in their community. They can help others through the Word because they seek nothing for themselves and have no fears for themselves.

(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his book about community, Life Together)

This is difficult for me to swallow. Ouch. In some ways I’m not a sensitive person, but as I was discussing with a friend today, I am sensitive about certain things, especially my writing. When I think of writing, creating – exposing part of my heart – it terrifies me to think that some will be critical. They might be constructively critical, but it will still hurt.

At what cost do I hide? By keeping silent, I might avoid the criticism of those who find flaws. But is my motivation for writing to please other people? If it is, I’m set up for disaster. If I write solely to please others, I will never find the voice that is me. Just like in “real life,” I cannot change who I am like a chameleon simply to make others happy with me. (Someone remind me of that on a regular basis, please.) It doesn’t work, and I only end up dissatisfied.

So. I’ve talked about writing, which diverges from Bonhoeffer’s excellent point: I want to be that truly humble person who “cling[s] to both truth and love” and is not in search of self-gratification or self-protection. The refreshment and freedom of speaking and hearing the truth is possible if I abandon my reputation and self-focus. Most of the time, I’m not even close to that. I’ve tasted it just a little, though, and it’s sweet.

Side note: I am thankful for friends, coffee, and comfortable conversations. God has blessed me and I know it.

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2 Responses

  1. I find it interesting that spending time with different people can have almost a mirroring effect bringing out certain characteristics when we spend time with them. I wonder why this happens? Do you think there are varying levels or types of sensitivity, some that are beneficial and some that are harmful?

    Some of the positive traits of being sensitive (in my opinion) are: a heightened sense of awareness and empathy toward others, the ability to observe details which may seem unseen to others, the appreciation of simple and subtle pleasures in life, possibly experiencing things more vividly that some, etc…

    The negative traits which seem to be more widely celebrated in our culture include: the tendency to be overly critical or offended, anxious, defensive, etc……

    I guess we have to know which of these traits to cling to and which of them to discard. I can’t help but wonder if this process is linked to what the Bible describes as “the working out of our salvation” (cue finger quotation) or whether it is completely unrelated?

  2. Yes, I’ve noticed that about spending time with different people (that it brings out different sides of me)! It used to be my ideal to behave exactly the same around everyone, because I thought that meant being authentic. I’ve changed my mind about that, though, because I think it depends on the reason we act differently. If I am different because I’m insecure, that is a problem; however, most of the time it seems I’m different around different people, but still myself. It’s just, like you said, different people bring out different parts of ourselves.

    I like the positive aspects of being sensitive. It does seem like our culture misrepresents sensitivity (the sort of “sink or swim” mentality)… it doesn’t have to mean creating drama.

    And I think you’re right about it being part of “the working out of our salvation” in human form (complete with finger quotation marks). It seems like maybe…

    The positive aspects of sensitivity are the selfless ones (empathy, for instance).

    The negative aspects of sensitivity are selfish ones (like taking offense simply because something hurts my ego, or being anxious because I’m worried about my reputation… as if that mattered :)).

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