As young women, we have been blessed with a certain sensitivity within our nature, a sensitivity that attunes us to the feelings of others, and allows us to approach our friends with tenderness and gentleness. God has blessed us with the desire to share our hearts with one another, to empathize with feelings.
This sensitivity, though a beautiful gift to us, is often exploited by the media and the culture. The culture’s view is quite one-sided. Popular movies portray sensitivity as a need to pour out many emotions. And these feelings can be anything from elation to despair. A girl might be inconsolably crying in one scene, and then passionately kissing a man in the next. Sensitivity from this standpoint can almost seem like a lapse in self control. Our culture presents sensitivity in extremes. Many movies are a culmination of scene after scene of heightened emotion, and therefore the view of reality is distorted. This beautiful part of our nature is reduced to merely a way to make us more appealing to the opposite sex.
In response to our culture’s image of the female, there seems to be a general insecurity among women especially among those who feel they must fit society’s standards of flawlessness and physical beauty. The “norm” also encompasses the emotions. We often do not see women acting emotionally chaste in movies, like say Titanic, and the message is that in order to win friends, to get the guy of our dreams, we must put ourselves out there emotionally, make ourselves vulnerable, to feel something. Perhaps it is the feeling that for some of us validates an experience. And it also leads us into the realm of trying to interpret what others, especially the young men in our lives, meant when he said this, or was implying with that comment. As I said before, the danger is that we begin to tend toward something other than reality and toward a time other than the present moment.
Thank goodness then for beautiful bright lights amid the confusing dimness of our culture. One of these models of the proper way to use our gift of sensitivity is St. Therese of Lisieux. St. Therese is a woman who for half of her life struggled with oversensitivity. The slightest criticism could bring her to tears. As a child, she struggled with a bout of scrupulosity, a heightened sensitivity to sin in one’s life. When she was thirteen, a miraculous event occurred in her life. One Christmas Eve, she came home and heard her father say something that would usually have caused her to begin weeping, but instead of crying, she came into the room smiling, describing the moment in this way: “In a moment, Jesus had done what I had been trying to do for years….” (Story of a Soul).
This moment was not a cure for St. Therese’s sensitivity, but instead a help with her oversensitivity. Sensitivity was one of God’s gifts to Therese, and this gift is manifested in her writing (especially in her autobiography, Story of a Soul, and in her poems- see a book called The Poetry of St. Therese of Lisieux) and in her way of life. I am struck by her words, which I am told are even more beautiful in the original French. She sees the gift God has given her in her sensitive nature: “He [God] has surrounded me with love all my life; the first things I can remember are tender smiles and caresses, and while surrounding me with all this love, He gave me a warm and sensitive heart to respond to it” (Story of a Soul). And her sensitivity manifested itself in what brought her joy. She took delight in nature, and saw God there, comparing souls to flowers in God’s heavenly garden: “He opened the book of nature before me, and I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own, that the splendor of the rose and the lily’s whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent or make less ravishing the daisy’s charm” (Story of a Soul).
With this more ordered idea of sensitivity, we may now ask, "What is beautiful about the sensitive soul?" So much! I think one of the gifts God gives to the sensitive soul is a realization of God in many places. We have noted that St. Therese found God in nature especially. It impressed her, and served as a metaphor for many of her thoughts. Just look at this simple stanza from her poem “Abandonment is the Sweet Fruit of Love”: “Above the clouds / The sky is always blue. / One touches the shores / Where God reigns” (Stanza 17, The Poetry of St. Therese of Lisieux). And this realization of God may come in many different forms. Another person may find God in music; another may find God in the joy of cooking; another may find Him in spending time with another person.
There is also a creative wellspring that comes from the sensitive soul, and the results are beautiful. As an example, let’s take a one of the beautiful flowering trees, a mark of the springtime. From one person’s sensitivity, she may create a poem, from another, a song, still another, a painting. Another person may take a photograph, and share it with others. The beauty in each of these is that they are responses to God’s love, prayers in and of themselves, and they create the potential for one to share God’s love with others.
In our culture today, our womanhood is often skewed by a media that destroys the creative nature of sensitivity and uses it merely for consumer purposes, often to sell the body. If we truly wish to love ourselves and love those around us, I think we as young women in Christ should embrace this lovely gift from God, this gift of sensitivity, and allow God to use it to shape us into stronger women. We can do this by listening and responding to others with empathy, and also I think by highlighting in the young men around us the sensitivity that they themselves possess. God made men and women to complement each other. The young men we know also have been given the gift of sensitivity. Sadly our culture has buried this gift under the prevailing idea of the manly man, one who must be stoic in times of distress. Also, since their gift is made to complement ours, it is not the same as ours, nor always manifested in the same way as ours. By treating them, and our fellow sisters in Christ, with tenderness, while also respecting them through our own emotional chastity, we allow God to work through our natures to manifest His love for them. If we allow our Lord to work through us, like St. Therese did, He will do wondrous things with us. Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of sensitivity!