Recently, I received the following email question from a devoted reader. I was shocked and moved, because it touches on issues my husband and I have been discussing for quite a while.
I wanted to thank you for the encouragement of your posts about self-condemnation and priorities. It encouraged me a great deal, and I have to go back and reread it every now and then, just to remind myself… The church I attended wore head coverings. They take 1 Corinthians 11 to be something that is still applicable today. When it started out, it wasn’t a salvation issue, but the further along we went, it seemed like it became a salvation issue. Wearing the head covering was always a burden to me, but I wore it, almost like I thought I was a martyr and had to “sacrifice” for Jesus. When we left, we looked at the head covering again, and part of that was that I knew very dear friends (yourself included) that were very committed to Christ, that hear from Him, and that have evidence of His work in their life, and yet they don’t wear the covering. In fact, that was probably what started me on the path of looking because my best friend was also one of those people in my life. It has been difficult to change from this being part of my idea of what my righteousness was, to learning to trust that my righteousness is in Christ alone. ANYWAY (these emails and questions all seem to get long with you…sorry about that), I was just wondering how do you handle Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 11? I know that you believe that the Bible is the Word of God, and inspired by Him, and that you pattern your life after it. I’ve just been struggling with how to interpret Scriptures like 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Timothy 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3-4, that seem to be commandments of things that we should or should not do (we didn’t wear jewelry or makeup or anything else that was deemed to be adornment). We have made some decisions since leaving, such as removing the covering, I’ve begun to wear some makeup every now and then though I prefer it to look very natural, and I have a desire to put my wedding ring back on but because of my emotional feelings about it, I’ve left the decision up to [my husband]. I’m not sure he’s made a final decision yet, although I do believe that we will eventually go back to wearing it. But there are times when I wonder if I am not obeying God when I do that. I don’t feel conviction that I am sinning when I do it, but my head still throws condemnation at me once in a while. And I know that there isn’t any condemnation in Christ, but for so long we were taught that we couldn’t trust our “feelings” , that we just needed to obey.
This, my friends, makes so much sense. The entire issue of bondage to standards is such a sticky one with me, that when I received this question I sat down for 2 hours and wrote two long posts on the subject. Then, as I always do when writing a “controversial post,” I asked my husband to read it over. He added a couple of thoughts, but then agreed with me that something was missing. So I saved the drafts and waited for the right inspiration.
A Case of HyperSensitivity
It came in the form of a new word from my husband last week: Hyper-Sensitivity. He made it up, which was remarkable in itself (if you haven’t met my beloved, he is a nationalized immigrant.We love to tease him about his English!). The two of us were in the inner-sanctum of our master bathroom, discussing the world’s problems (I can’t remember which particular world problem we were solving at the time). He blurted out “it’s like they are Hyper-Sensitive!” With that label, everything we had been grappling with over the past few years became clear. We grabbed dry erase markers and began jotting notes, diagrams, and phrases across the wide bathroom mirror. When it was over, we finally understood 1) why the two of us didn’t seem to get along spiritually at times; 2) why we felt like we were bucking the “church system” individually; and 3) what we really wanted to focus on, instead.
Let me share with you a little of our history. I came from what we are calling a “Hyper-Sensitive” background. Some would use *the L word* to describe such families, churches, and institutions, but invariably those inside these systems just argue on the terms of *the L word* so that terminology has become practically useless for this discussion. Sensitive they are: sensitive to their environment, sensitive to their activities, sensitive to their associations. They are proud to say they are sensitive to the Spirit, sensitive to the Scriptures, and sensitive to their conscience. The sensitivity is protected through increasingly strict standards, exaggerated religious ritual, and a carefully cultivated conscious. Exposure to an influence, material, or organization outside the HyperSensitive’s accepted tolerance results in physical, emotional, and spiritual rejection of the offensive pathogen. It is a reaction similar to a highly allergic individual vomiting and breaking out in hives after eating the “wrong food.” He will afterwards do all he can to stay away from such an experience.
The polar opposite is “De-Sensitive,” a term which describes my husband’s lifestyle before we met. We didn’t even make up this term; HyperSensitives preach against “desensitization” often. DeSensitives are not bothered at all by their environment. They seem completely non-concerned and non-affected by the world in which they live. DeSensitives will take in the good with the bad, not differentiating at all amongst the barrage of influences acting upon them. They are easily influenced, but not at all by the HyperSensitives.
Not all of Christendom lives at such polar extremes. There are a great many very happy people in the middle somewhere, a place my husband calles “Reality.” Unfortunately, the two poles keep tugging at the middle and extremes. The DeSensitives do the least pulling; they are too happy partying with their neighbors. The HyperSensitives are extremely bothered sensitive to the masses of people immune to their lifestyle. They exert quite a bit of energy preaching against the sin of the DeSensitives and the “lukewarm attitude” of those living in the middle. But the middles in Reality don’t hear it, and the DeSensitives don’t care.
So, once-upon-a-time, a DeSensitive woo-ed and married a HyperSensitive. It didn’t take long before the polar opposites of their points of view created fireworks within their marriage. The DeSensitive wanted the HyperSensitive to “lighten up.” The HyperSensitive wished the DeSensitive wouldn’t be “so worldly.” Providentially, their first church was pastored by a very wise, laid-back counsellor living firmly in Reality. He sized up the situation from the get-go, sweetly leaving the HyperSensitive alone to come to health on her own and counseling the DeSensitive to take spiritual responsibility for his family. The DeSensitive began moving toward the middle, and the HyperSensitive began wondering why those people in the middle seemed so much happier than her when …
They moved across the country to work in a HyperSensitive ministry. The HyperSensitive was very happy, having found “home” and kindred spirits. The DeSensitive was not at all comfortable in the new environment. Because he loved his wife and because he had already learned the error of his former DeSensitive ways, he tried his best to conform to the external lifestyle of his new friends. But another truth about HyperSensitives is that they can always pick out an imposter. The DeSensitive was never really “one of them,” and he never took the HyperSensitive way to heart. So it was, that as an outsider living within, he was completely unsurprised to watch the HyperSensitives “bite and devour one another,” until the ministry was “consumed” (see Galatians 5:13-18).
After learning that painful lesson, once again the Lord intervened and moved the pair and their growing family across the country again. Away from the influence of family, friends, and institutions, they were now at an age and position to reflect, meditate, and study who they were and where their own family was going. This time was directed by the Almighty Hand through trial, tribulation, and isolation to draw their attention toward Him, their own failings, and finally … that middle Reality where they truly longed to live (Psalm 32:8; Deuteronomy 6:20-25)
The Cure for HyperSensitivity
God has much to say about Reality. It is so pure, so wholesome, so right, that I have begun calling it Truth.
Sanctify them through Thy Truth;Thy Word is Truth.
~ John 17:17
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
~ John 14: 6
Behold, Thou desirest Truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part Thou shalt make me know wisdom.
~ Psalm 51: 6
Studying the Truth of Scripture, seeking the revealed Truth of God, and making that Truth part of the inner life is the first step in my recovery from HyperSensitivity. Living for extended periods of time in such an environment and then making it a part of who I am distorts my thinking. I need a “renewed mind” (Romans 12:1). I do not need to conform to other hyper-sensitive ways, regulations, or demands. Rather, I need to “prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”
Living God’s priorities is the next step. What is really important to Him? I was surprised and shocked that He says clearly what He requires of me and that it did not involve “standards” or rules of any kind.
Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
~ Matthew 22:37-40
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.
~ James 1:27
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.
~ Ecclesiastes 12:9
He hath shown thee, O man, what is good, and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.
~ Micah 6:8
Applying Scripture honestly is a new Reality for me. When I come to passages with which I am prone to HyperSensitivity, I ask myself these questions:
- What does the Scripture really say here? (Psalm 19:9)
- Where else in the Scripture does God show how He views this principle? (Deuteronomy 32:4)
- Is my own HyperSensitivity clouding my judgement? If so, I pray for continued guidance from God (Proverbs 23:23).
- Do I feel pressured by external influences to distort the clear teaching of God’s Word? If so, I must cling to Truth (2 Timothy 2:15-16).
Renewing my HyperSensitive conscious takes time. It involves renewing my personal relationship with God, putting my salvation back on His terms rather than mine (Psalm 51). It means “keeping my heart” (Proverbs 4:23) and learning what Christ means (Matthew 9:13). It involves seeking to see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14) and to His rest (Hebrews 4). It is Him, not me (John 3:29, 30).
Life After HyperSensitivity
“Can’t we all just get along?” a close friend of mine used to wail about sensitive issues. The answer should be a resounding, “Yes!” It really isn’t that hard.
Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things (needs), but every man also on the things of others.
~ Philippians 2:2-4
I therefore, the prisoner of the LORD, beseech you that ye walk worth of the vocation to which ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and the Father of all, Who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
– Ephesians 4:1-6
We HyperSensitives need to recover spiritual health, by God’s grace. DeSensitives need to live their new life in Christ. And all of us need a renewed vision of the Truth Christ has revealed to His children.
Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage… If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
~ Galatians 5: 1, 26
Through prayer and honest reading of the Scriptures, even this DeSensitive and HyperSensitive were able to meet rather quickly on the “big areas” of life.
- What does God want marriage to look like?
- How does God want us to rear our children (discipline, discipleship, education, etc.)?
- What does God require for worship?
After that, the “daily life” issues seemed to fall into place. So many principles we had established in the above three questions helped relieve the pressure from …
- What do I wear?
- Who do I associate with?
- How may I behave (play, entertainment, activities, etc)?
I have not arrived in this regard by any means. Every time I think “I have recovered,” I fall flat on my face in some area. But I praise the Lord that the True God of the Universe demonstrates His love, justice, and righteousness toward me in forgiving my failings every day (I John).
And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us and understanding, that we may know Him that is True; and we are in Him that is True, even in His Son Jesus Christ. His is the True God, and eternal life.
~ I John 5:20
Special thanks to my husband, David Garfias, for helping me understand these principles, counseling me toward reality, and loving me through it all.