When I began playing the guitar, my fingertips were quite sore from pressing down the strings until calluses finally developed. Although I didn’t like the way my hands felt, the calluses helped me to play without pain. After walking too many miles in ill-fitting shoes, I was also relieved when a painful blister eventually formed into a callus. Our calluses become thick, protective layers to help us do habitual tasks repeatedly. Calluses benefit us by reducing our pain, thus helping us to continue doing what we do.
But sometimes we build up calluses where they don’t belong; places where they aren’t helpful, but harmful: in our spirits or souls. We are born with tender hearts and gentle countenances, but over time these can become callused by challenging life experiences, painful wounds and hurts, taught biases and beliefs, and jaded perspectives resulting from any of them. We build up soul calluses to protect ourselves from additional pain or injury, and perhaps even from any new challenge or discovery. Our soul calluses prevent our additional pain- but may also prevent our growth and change. Our calluses cause our callousness.
I recall a precious time when I was talking with a woman who was fostering a baby girl. This little child had been so neglected that she no longer cried. The foster mom told me of her deep joy when she finally heard this tiny baby cry for the first time! The poor child’s soul had become callused because of neglect, and the foster parent had to lovingly, gently soften and restore her tender heart.
As I consider my 60 years of experiences, wounds and lessons, I hope I have gained wisdom. But what have I lost? Have I built up calluses in my soul that keep me repeatedly thinking the same ideas- or feeling the same perspectives- without questioning them? There are so many needs all around me; where am I no longer feeling pain that I should be feeling? Am I able to look at the world with wide-eyed wonder, to see the possibilities of living together in harmony, to have the courage to work for justice, equality and compassion for all? Or have I become too jaded, too self-protecting, or too fearful? Where are there calluses on my soul that prevent me from being God’s new creation- every day?
May my soul’s challenges, experiences, perspectives and wounds remain fresh and raw. Raw enough to keep me tenderhearted and compassionate. Fresh enough to keep me aware and ready to help others. Raw enough to become more vulnerable to the sufferings of others. Fresh enough for me to question my viewpoint as true or the way it has to be. And may I redirect any fresh, raw pain or insight into good and healing works, into suffering for and with humanity, and not just into new callus formation.
I’ve been hearing the words, “over-sensitive” being said quite often these days. It is my hope and prayer that they might be describing me.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.” ~1 Peter 3:8 (NRSV, emphasis mine)