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Balancing on Barbed Wire

It’s one thing to feel nothing, another to feel everything and be overwhelmed. It’s something completely different to have both experiences at the same time: to be so overwhelmed by feeling that you feel nothing, and yet still somehow you feel everything, but just as a bombardment.

It’s a blessing to be a fantastic listener. It’s a curse to have everyone know it and pour out their heart to you. Yet it’s a blessing to know that you’ve been a great help and a good friend by using that gift.

It’s in my nature to care deeply for others. It’s also in my nature to be deeply pained by caring.

I love to give love and to receive love. But it hurts to love, and I don’t always believe it when I’m told I’m loved.

I love solitude. Yet I am terrified of loneliness. Social situations are an ordeal for me, but I crave them.

So I hang in the balance…literally. I’m like a pendulum, swinging from deep giving of myself to complete isolation, from ignoring what I feel to being crushed by it all. I guess the question is whether I’ll find a balance.

Except I’m not entirely sure I want that.

Maybe enough swings into the places I fall apart will finally shatter the barriers. Maybe someday my sojourns into the silence will be in peace rather than searching for it. Maybe the more I give, the less I’ll need after all.

I guess I’ve always kind of been a go-between: between charismatics and traditionalists, between the quiet at heart and the boisterous in spirit, and (by the grace of God alone, goodness knows why He chose me) between Love and the beloved. Maybe I’m not so much a pendulum as a keeper of a bridge, a pilot of a ferry. My back and forth might be more like a service to others than a personal journey. It’s just a long, hard journey in-between.

And maybe I’m totally wrong.

But whatever the case, I know this much: I’m not going to stop following my guiding star, the Crucified One, the King of the Empty Grave, my Prince of Peace.

A Midnight Musing

I remember a time I loathed the idea I might have some limitation, some handicap. I always knew I had seemingly odd differences, but I began to see them as no longer neutral but profoundly negative. I trembled at the terrible notion that I might be terribly held back. And yet the stark reality of my own weaknesses, my difference from the world around me, was staring me in the face and daring me to discover its source, tossing up the most horrible possible answers. More horrible still, I latched onto the worst possible answer and hinged my life on that assumption about myself, about who, or maybe more accurately what, I was.

Three years later, I would discover this was false, that I had believed a lie. Or half a lie. I was wrong about WHY I was different. But if those three nightmarish years taught me anything, they confirmed more fully in me that I truly was different, limited, and in some sense weak, though I began perhaps to see a flicker of strength within.

Still, the fact of my weakness plagued me. For another three years, life would be full of questioning, self-loathing, and terrible displays of my weakness: I felt too much. Every face was either one more stimulus for an already-overwhelmed mind or one more reason to cringe into a corner. Every sound, every inflection of the voice, every touch, every speck of light–I was paralyzed at times. One moment I would be sympathizing with a loved one, the next nearly gagging on my own breath from the weight of the emotional stress. And all I could think was how much I sucked for not being normal.

The past few weeks, after learning that all my life I’ve been living without a choice in the matter, I’ve been trying to live as if I could make it go away, make it stop hurting. I know now that that’s impossible.

And somehow, that makes me happier.

There’s a strange sort of…peace, I suppose, in simply sitting back and saying, “I’m limited.” There’s a remarkable clarity in looking at all you wish you could do and saying, “So be it.” There’s an odd kind of consolation in simply stretching out your arms, looking to a crucifix, and saying, “My turn.”

I’m not despairing, I’m not despondent, just…a different kind of hopeful. I’m not hoping for healing anymore. I’m just hoping for the strength to see this journey through, cross and all. I’m choosing to accept the hardships of this life with patience and look to the promise of an eternity without pain or tears. I’m not giving up on this life, I’m just trying to see it through a new lens, one that does not rejoice in suffering but accepts it anyway and tries to be joyful through the pain. I’m seeing outside myself, seeing the beauty that God has placed in the world, not as simply a nice touch to the reality He created but as a message of His love for us, a source of his comfort on this rocky road to Paradise.

I don’t see all rainbows and butterflies anymore, but I’m not limited to the showers and worms either. No, at last, praise God, I’m beginning to see reality as it was meant to be seen, and it’s because I finally know that I can’t see it all.

I don’t even know if any of what just spilled from my fingertips even came out coherently, but it doesn’t matter. I know that if it’s touching the paper, someone, somewhere, needs to hear this. To whoever it is, know this: you are dearly loved, your pains are not punishment but profound signs of the love of a Father too dearly fond of us to let us live in mediocrity. He has shown us what it means to suffer in love, and the great rewards that are to come. It’s easier said than done, but speaking as one who is beginning to pass from darkness to light, it is well worth all you must surrender in love to He Who first loved you enough to die for you. May God bless you.

Gentle Man

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.

Serenity

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

This well-known “Serenity Prayer” was what a friend chose to have tattooed on her shoulder. My first reaction was something like, “You put what? On where? Using WHAT????” Needles and I have a long-running love-hate relationship: I hate them, and they love to see me squirm. Naturally, I was curious as to what would possess a person to voluntarily have one stuck in their shoulder multiple times.

Turns out, she had dealt with great grief and suffering in her life, and this prayer had come to be not only a comfort but a guide to how she dealt with life: receiving wisdom from God to analyze her situations, serenity to accept the things that had happened to her, and courage to change how she dealt with them and approached the rest of her life. This prayer was so much a part of her that she wanted it permanently etched into her very flesh. While I don’t normally advocate tattoos (I mean, c’mon, who needs a skull in flames sitting permanently on their body which probably looked much better without it? There’s gotta be a better way to spend that money…), I could not help but feel great admiration and respect for this young woman.

This prayer has come, in the past few days, to touch me in a very deep way. It turns out that I have an inherited trait called Sensory-Processing Sensitivity, making me an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person…real original name, huh?). It affects about 15-20% of the population in varying degrees, and basically it means that my nervous system is incredibly sensitive and easily overwhelmed. On the pro side, it’s easy for me to enter deeply into the spiritual life, to appreciate beauty, and to pick up on the feelings of others. On the con side, I’m easily overwhelmed by crowds and over-stimulating environments, I’m hypercritical of myself, and, because of old insecurities, social situations are an ordeal for me.

Having only recently discovered this, I’ve dealt for my whole life with this without being able to name it, and thus unable to accept it without any amount of serenity. I always had a fear of fireworks, couldn’t connect well with guys (loud, rowdy, obnoxious guys were the only guys I knew), and never got why I couldn’t get into sports and preferred instead singing in a choir. Insecurity after insecurity built itself up within me, and all I could say with any certainty was that I was different, and the only word I knew for “different without a name” was “freak”.

I’ve always heard that the most relieving thing for a person dealing with psychological problems is to be able to put a name to it, and now I can say it’s totally true. It’s a little like dealing with temptation: once you can name your demons, you can combat them. The difference is that we’re dealing here not with demons, but with our own broken and beautiful humanity. When once we can look at our brokenness as God does–with great love–we find new meaning and purpose. I am not a freak; I am a man with both a gift and a cross, just like everyone else; mine just happen to be rolled up under one heading.

My prayer is that I may accept with serenity who I am, change with courage the way it has affected and will affect me, and know with wisdom which is which; to simultaneously love myself and make myself the best I can be, not so much for my sake but for His.

And my prayer for any who struggle in any way, especially those who are fellow HSP’s, is that you, too, may receive wisdom, courage, and serenity from the loving hands that first created you.

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