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Thick Skin and Hard Hearts
Tod Bolsinger
Tuesday, May 20, 2014

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I sliced my thumb a few weeks ago. Nothing dangerous, just painful and slightly bloody. Dull knife, big apple, a few seconds of distraction, and the next thing I know I am off to the emergency room for four stitches and a bandage that made me look like I had a Mickey Mouse hand for the next two days.

The wound is healed now. The stitches are long gone, and all the dead skin has become a callus. The tip of my thumb is one big rough, deadened area. It's weird how little feeling it has. Oh, it will be all right soon enough, but it sure has me thinking about how wounds lead to calluses. And if this is true with hands, how much more so is it the case with hearts. How often does a callus lead to acting calloused?

This also helps me make sense of the growing level of cynicism that seems to plague our society. Rolled eyeballs and raised eyebrows have replaced wide-eyed wonder and clear-eyed assessment. We have been burned before, so we assume that everyone is actually selling something. If the phone rings and we don't recognize the voice, we immediately think telemarketer, not potential friend.

Here's the problem of cynicism. If we are calloused, we believe everyone is. "All ideals are only fairy tales and only the thick-skinned and hard-hearted will survive," we say, thinking ourselves so wise.

Inevitably the rules of the jungle will become the only rules that matter and our humanity suffers. We will all do only what is right in our own eyes (Judges 17:6). A hard heart leads to heartlessness. A painful wound can lead to injuring others and rationalizing it away.

And maybe, just maybe, we're even more susceptible to cynicism during the holidays. One person said, "Every year at the holidays we travel great distances to spend lots of money and have long meals with people we've been avoiding all year long." Which, of course, would be funny if it weren't so true.

Is this the way you want to live? I have to admit that having a few patches of skin that feel no pain has been interesting, even weirdly useful to me. I can almost pry out a nail with my thumb. But something within me knows it shouldn't be that way—especially when it comes to my heart. I really want to feel. If not for myself, then to make sure that wherever I exercise influence I am not carelessly wielding things that could cut—and callous—others.

Tod Bolsinger is vice president for Vocation and Formation and assistant professor of Practical Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. For 17 years, he was senior pastor of San Clemente Presbyterian Church in San Clemente, California. He is the author of It Takes a Church to Raise a Christian: How the Community of God Transforms Lives and Show Time: Living Down Hypocrisy by Living Out the Faith. Tod is a contributing writer for article is adapted with permission from the author's original article "I Want to Feel Again" at All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures quoted are taken from the New Living Translation.

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