I have been really aware recently of the hurt and pain that is in our world. I know that seems like a broad statement, but when I think about issues such as abortion, sex slavery, asylum seekers, and gender confusion, I am almost overwhelmed by the pain, anger, confusion and suffering that so many people experience on a daily basis.
I've written in a previous article about how I am a very empathetic person. I feel deeply, both in good ways and bad.
Don't be so sensitive
Unfortunately, I think that people like me are often perceived as weak. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I'm not afraid to show my emotions. Sometimes I struggle to have difficult conversations (especially with people I care about), because I just get too emotionally involved. If you're like me, then you too have probably had people tell you to “not be so sensitive”, or to just “get on with it”.
One woman show
I recently watched the comedy special “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette” on Netflix, and I can honestly say it's the first time I've watched comedy and sobbed not only with laughter, but genuine sadness. Hannah Gadsby has written what some might prefer to call a 'one woman show', which is funny, but is essentially an announcement that she is quitting comedy because she is done using her life to get laughs.
As she discusses feminism, misogyny, sexual abuse, and depression, she explains that she has often been told, “just don't be so sensitive”. She asks the question “why would I want to be insensitive?”
As a gay woman from Tasmania, Gadsby's comedy special touches on everything from her coming out story to her study of art history. As she starts to get laughs from people about these moments in her life (for example quoting her mother as saying “why did you have to tell me, I wouldn't want to know if you're a murderer”, in response to her coming out as gay), she explains that comedy works because of tension.
The comedian tells a story that reaches a point of tension, then brings relief by providing a humorous punch line. She explains that if she was to go on with her coming out story, it would actually end with how she and her mother share a wonderful relationship involving reconciliation and understanding. But that's just not funny.
Hannah essentially declares that her life, her story, is too important to be used simply as a punch line. “Laughter is not our medicine, stories hold our cure”, she says. She uses her show not to create tension that results in the relief of laughter, but simply to create tension. Hannah Gadsby certainly leaves her audience feeling a little bit raw, a little bit sensitive.
I recently preached on John chapter 11, where Jesus goes to the funeral of his friend Lazarus, and (as told in the shortest verse in the bible), he weeps. Jesus knew Lazarus would die, and he also knew he was about to raise him from the dead, but instead of “just getting on with it”, Jesus allows himself to feel what Lazarus' friends and family feel, to empathise with them, to be sensitive.
In doing so, he proved not only that he is trustworthy as a friend and humble as a saviour, but that he is the God-man who knows what it's like to feel pain, and who weeps along with us.
This wasn't the only occasion Jesus wasn't afraid to be sensitive. In Luke chapter 19, verses 41 – 44 Jesus weeps over the fate of Jerusalem, knowing they are about to crucify him. He cried out to God from the cross (Matthew chapter 27, verse 46) in despair, anguish and pain. Isaiah chapter 53, verse 3 referred to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, as a “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief”.
Why would I want to be insensitive?
I can kind of see how you might get the impression that being insensitive could be a sign of strength: not letting anything affect you, always keeping your cool. But the reality is that if we look at the world, if we think about the issues such as the ones I mentioned at the beginning of this article, we are not called to keep our cool.
If we say we follow Jesus, sensitive Jesus, we are called to care deeply about people. To be sensitive to how they feel, to listen to their stories, to share their pain. This is not a sign of weakness, but a show of strength.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that insensitivity is what's weak. To quote Hannah Gadsby one more time, “we think it's more important to be right, then it is to appeal to the humanity of the people we disagree with”.
There is so much going on in the world today. So much sadness, so much anger, so many difficult decisions being made. So many issues (and people) we might disagree with. So many stories to be shared. Jesus gave us an example: listen, understand, empathise. I believe that Jesus would have us hear those stories, share our sympathy, and be sensitive.
Jess is married to Colin, and they have a one year old daughter, Lucy. Together they are striving to live like Jesus every day, by loving God, loving people, and serving the world with joy.
Jess Curries’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/jess-currie.html.