My husband would probably say that I’m a little hung up on the word ’empathy’. But as he has also pointed out to me, my career is centered around needing to be empathetic to others, so this probably comes easy to me. But let me explain why I am so hung up on empathy and why I think it’s important for all of us to have a better understanding.
Brené Brown states it perfectly: “Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection.”
Webster’s dictionary defines empathy as the following:
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this
As I read this definition, I think it’s hard to deny, as a Christian, that these are the things that Jesus believed in. And so should we.
Understanding, aware of, sensitive, vicarious, objectively explicit manner….
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” Matthew 9:36
In Matthew 9, Jesus didn’t say ‘oh well’ when he saw the harvest was plenty but the workers were few (verse 37). Instead, he sent out workers (verse 38). He saw that they were struggling, like sheep without a shepherd, and they needed some guidance
How often in our lives do we see others struggling, but we don’t know how to help, so we just say “well it’s none of my business.” But how often can we all also relate to being that sheep without a shepherd and needing some guidance?
And what if Jesus had looked at these struggling townspeople and said “ahh yeah, they are struggling, but what can I do?” He would have not benefited from helping them, but he chose compassion and empathy. Sure, Jesus was performing miracles and healing the sick and all kind of cool stuff, which I know we are not capable of doing. But let me remind you of this: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.” Romans 8:11.
The Holy Spirit lives in each of us, so while we can’t perform miracles, like turning water in wine or raise people from the dead, we are fully capable of using our words and actions to help others. Just as simple as a “this must be really difficult, can I help with anything?” could mean the world to someone. And quite honestly, could bring back life to someone struggling.
During infertility, I often felt like others just didn’t get it. The comments were things like “oh it will happen”, “at least you have a loving husband”, “have you tried x, y, z? My cousin’s sister’s brother’s wife got pregnant by….and then insert the most absurd recommendation ever on how to make a baby.” These comments left me feeling deflated and helpless. These comments drove disconnect in my world.
However, my dearest friend, Julie, would often say to me, “I’m so proud of you.” And when I finally asked her the reasoning for her constant reminder of being proud of me, her response was that she knew how hard daily life was for me at that point and just getting out of bed was hard some days, so she truly was proud of the strength I showed on a daily basis. Do you know what hearing that made me do? It made me want to fight harder. And that’s what I did. Her words fueled me.
We are fully capable of fueling others by our words and actions, and show love and compassion. While I know it’s not always easy, but it’s what we are called to do. And just like how easily Jesus could have walked away from all those that persecuted him, he didn’t, nor should we walk away from those that are struggling. We need to show them love and compassion, just as Jesus did. And just as simple as “I’m so proud of you” fueling me to fight harder, we can truly make a difference in someone else’s life.
So the next time you see someone struggling, will you choose to be empathetic like Jesus and fuel connections or will you choose to drive a disconnect?