Thin-skinned people irritate me. (To be fair, I bet I bug them even more.) You don’t “like” their every Facebook post, their feelings get hurt. In a casual discussion, you cautiously question an idea of theirs, and they are deeply wounded.
Sometimes I just want to say, “Forget it.” However, my sympathy grew last fall during one unpleasant week, when:
- A long-term reader criticized my article as poorly written, irrelevant, and stupid.
- A close friend blatantly refused to help when I asked for the tiniest of favors.
- I completed a two year service commitment, and no one bothered to thank me.
- And those were the high points.
I thought I had the tough skin of a rhino. Turns out I have the thin skin of a peach. And my emotional life was in the pits. (Sorry. I didn’t even try to resist.)
Do you ever feel unwanted, see your ideas rejected, or get taken for granted? It ain’t fun. During that un-fun week, I felt used, abused, and confused. My motives were questioned, my ideas rejected, and my character assassinated. At least shot at.
I thought nasty thoughts about those villains; I considered them to be insensitive dolts. I was hurt. And a tiny bit pissed. I wondered if their parents had ever been married. As I pondered their questionable lineage, it struck me,
It wasn’t my feelings that were hurt—it was my ego.
What do we even mean?
I want to outlaw the phrase “hurt feelings.” We say, “You hurt my feelings when you said that,” or “I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” But what do we mean? How can my “feelings” be hurt? Compare my hurt feelings to,
- He cheated on his expense reports and his career was hurt.
- She abandoned her family and her kids were hurt.
- I banged my funny bone on the cabinet corner and my elbow was hurt.
An elbow (career or family) suffers a degree of damage and the result is a measure of pain. Something tangible is hurt and the consequence is a ration of suffering.
But when I say, “You hurt my feelings,” what tangible item is damaged? Sure, I feel unpleasantness, but what was hurt? The critique of my article that “hurt my feelings” really just wounded my pride; is it possible that my writing falls short of Hemmingway?*
Most of our body works just fine. Most of the time. And it goes unacknowledged. I’ve never exclaimed to a friend, “Look at my right elbow. It bends and straightens and twists. It’s amazing. What an elbow!” I rarely appreciate the wonders of my elbows.
But if I bang that elbow, it taunts me as I turn a page, type a blog (be it good or bad), or twist a bottle cap. My battered elbow shamelessly screams for attention.**
So do our feelings. We don’t think of them until they are hurt. Then we think of nothing else. (But remember, it’s our egos that are hurt not our feelings.)
When our elbow is hurt we nurse an injury; when our feelings are hurt we nurse a grudge. Hurt pride shouts, “What about me?” Then I ponder harsh thoughts about you.
Maybe you’re just a better person than me. You probably are. (Although admitting that doesn’t make me feel any better.) But nursing hurt feelings (ego and pride) never results in something good. We brood on our unjust hurts or we dwell on the evil in others.
What about Christians?
Christians should be the most immune to hurt feelings. But I think we are every bit as sensitive. Maybe more so. If our inner-strength comes from the promise of love from a faithful God, shouldn’t we—of all people—have the inner-poise to examine our hurts realistically and honestly?
Look at the critique of my article. It was either wrong, mean spirited, or accurate.
- If it was just plain wrong, who the heck cares? Why should my feelings be hurt by somebody else’s folly?
- If it was spiteful, why does the critic’s dislike of me outweigh Christ’s love of me?
- If the criticism was spot on, why is my heart so wounded? Maybe (just maybe) my writing could improve. Do I really think I’m the living reincarnation of Lewis, Tolkien, and Hemmingway, rolled into one?*
What are we missing?
Paul wrote, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31). He didn’t mean that no one will be against us. Quite the contrary. He meant, “Who cares!”
When our feelings get hurt, the insult is more real to us than anything else. We lick our wounds and wallow in malicious thoughts about those critics (or neglectors or ingrates). Instead, let’s make the gospel more real. Jesus didn’t just suffer, he suffered deepest pains in our place, he took our suffering upon himself:
- If you feel rejected, Jesus took your rejection so you are accepted forever.
- If you feel neglected, Jesus was overlooked so you will never be forgotten again.
- If you feel unwanted, Jesus became undesirable so you could be his beauty.
I know what you’re thinking
Some are thinking of an uber-sensitive spouse, friend, or pastor. (You think they need this lesson.) Remember, I thought those same thoughts (of the weakness in others), right before my week from hell. Avoid that path. Think instead of your own “touchy” areas, and why you are so sensitive there.
Some are thinking, “If I can’t hurt their feelings, I’ll say anything I want.” But hurt pride hurts no less than hurt feelings. Let’s not use this message as a license to be a jerk.
Christians should be the least delicate—yet most sympathetic—of all people. The pain of hurt feelings may be the very medicine we need to rid our hearts of soul-killing pride.
Besides, who is more fun to be with, the thin-skinned, easily wounded, nursing-hurt-feelings narcissist; or the self-effacing, you-can-tell-me-anything, self-forgetter?
(Just don’t tell me my blog sucks.)
* A long term reader pointed out that I misspelled Hemingway (I used two “m’s”). Rather than correct it, I’ve left it misspelled, proving that I not only can’t write like Hemingway, I can’t even spell his name.
** I heard this elbow metaphor once and I never forgot it. But I forgot who said it.
See also, The Cowardice of Christian Niceness