Sensitivity. Not generally something a guy is expected or desired to possess as a personality trait, is it? Our culture declares that men should be impervious, rigid, rough. Stray from this pre-set stereotype, and you’ve opened yourself up for ridicule and scorn. Either step into the mold of a mix between Beowulf and a boulder, or accept that you’re gonna be on the fringe of society and called out for a lack of masculinity. Such is the mindset of the world.
As I’ve said before, I have SPS, which means that I literally have no choice when it comes to being sensitive, it’s just how my body works. Everything around me affects me tons of times more than the average person. I notice everything, feel things more deeply; everything bombards me–light, sound, touch, emotion, pain–with a force like a freight train, and my mind keeps running through the wreckage at a thousand miles a minute. Even the things that bring me the most joy wear on me until I literally can’t take anymore. It’s not uncommon for me to close or cover my eyes and ears in frustration, or simply walk off to the most quiet and lonely place to give myself a break. It’s either that or completely break down.
Needless to say, this didn’t particularly help me in my self-image growing up. A kid who cries at thunderstorms and fireworks, who would rather spend time singing or reading a book than running amok on a sports field, isn’t generally looked on as the most masculine. Particularly when your singing voice doesn’t change until freshman year (don’t get me started on all the “you sing like a girl” comments).
But when I looked at other guys, as much as I wanted to be more like them, I couldn’t help turning away and chuckling to myself. I felt like I possessed some secret treasure, a precious gem that brought me more than their trinkets of entertainment could ever bring them.
In an instant, I could sail on the words of some great author to the most distant lands of imagination, and scour the depths of the human heart along the way. I only needed to set my fingers on a piano or lift my voice in a familiar tune and suddenly I was washed in a sound that soothed rather than shocked, a sound that seemed to cleanse my mind of anxiety. I had but to kneel a moment before a glistening tabernacle and I felt in the depths of my soul that He was with me, loving me. I felt everything, and when I encountered beauty, I could be moved even to tears.
And I thought, “What’s so wrong about that?”
I think we as a society have forgotten the importance of the gift of the Holy Spirit called gentleness. We as men are indeed called to be strong and courageous, for these too are virtues; yet it is also our call to be gentle, humble, and truly loving. Part of these more forgotten virtues and gifts is being open to being touched and moved, to being receptive to that which God desires to use to move us closer to His heart. We are called both to roar like lions and sit in receptive sensitivity like lambs, to rise in strength with the Lion of Judah and walk in gentle peace with the Lamb of God.
So as we enter the Easter Triduum, I challenge all men to lift up their reluctance to feel, their fear of emotion, their illusion of superiority in hollow strength, to be crucified with Christ, that they may rise with Him as true gentle men. I call them to combine a lion’s spirit with a lamb’s heart.