The Power of Empathy

Let’s face it, sometimes life can be pretty shitty. I am not going to try and hide it, tie a bow on it, or make it sound prettier than it is. Because while I think sometimes we want a simple and beautiful way to put it, sometimes the storms of life just suck. Although Pinterest quotes are inspiring and helpful, life doesn’t always feel like the quote with a beautiful background talking about how the trial makes you stronger. Sometimes you’re in the trial and in the place of falling apart, and you can’t imagine how you could ever be strong again. Sometimes you don’t see an end or a beautiful wrapping up of the storm. Life won’t always make sense on this side of Heaven, so why do we keep trying to make it seem like it will or like it should? When you’ve been picked up by a wave and taken under, as the storm rages, I think it is okay to admit, that this…. this…is shitty. And if you could, you would never choose to go through what you’re going through.

 

I know what the storms of life can do to your spirit. I know what it’s like to wake up and wish you could just go back to sleep, when reality hurts because you’re living what you never hoped for your life. I’ve found myself on the floor with tears streaming down my face, wishing so deeply that I could just take my heart out and walk through the rest of life without feeling anything. I can understand why people numb themselves because I have had my share of pain that has cut me to the core, and left me bleeding out, more times than I wish. I have also learned something from all of those times. That is the power of empathy. Empathy is needed in the most crucial points of deep emotion because we live in a broken world.

 

I am a woman with a lot of feelings and I feel those feelings deeply. I haven’t always felt like this is a good thing. In fact, I saw this as my greatest weakness for much of my life. Honestly, only recently did I start learning the power that my feelings can have. For as many deep emotions as I have experienced, I have also realized that those emotions build bridges to other’s hearts. Hearts that I would never get to connect with otherwise. I have learned that feelings aren’t a bad thing, they are a gift, just like the gift of being able to reason.

 

Neither feelings nor logic should control everything we do, instead they should work in perfect harmony, allowing us to love one another well. Just like grace and truth don’t contradict one another, neither do feelings and logic.

The power of empathy is the power of the friend that that can connect to the emotions of a situation and who can walk WITH you through it. This means that empathy allows us to rejoice with one another, to cry with one another, to listen to one another and to hurt for one another in a way that should cause us to fall on our knees in front of our Father and pray for them, saying the words they might not be able to speak. This sort of intimacy isn’t found in cliché sayings that are supposed to fix everything. This sort of intimacy is found in experiencing the pain and joys of life together. This is the idea of community—the idea that others can understand and encourage us when the burdens are too heavy to carry alone. This means validating other’s feelings not as truth, but as understandable, and giving them the freedom to be okay with wrestling the depths of these things.

 

Rather than trying to give them a “behavior modification” that pushes them to act in a way that is socially acceptable, it is the ability to encourage them to trust God that even in the darkest moments of wrestling with him, HE won’t let go. It isn’t about changing a behavior as much as it is simply loving others in a way that they see the kindness of God and hear it speak to their heart.

 

The times when I’ve been met with empathy are the times that the shackles of shame have been released. And those conversations have changed me the most. In those conversations I felt understood and validated as others communicated worth and reminded me that I have someone in my corner, EVEN WHEN I WAS WRONG. This is an essential part of empathy because it is the power to validate and give understanding to the person. But it doesn’t mean that you are validating that feeling as true.

 

For example, I can FEEL WORTHLESS even though I am not worthless. One friend might just tell me I am not worthless, and that is a great reminder, but it ignored a deep feeling. Another friend can bring understanding and say they understand how I could be feeling that way, but also remind me of the truth that I AM NOT worthless, that they love me, and that God loves me. One ignores the feeling, the other acknowledges it, meets it with gentleness, and speaks truth over it, all while validating the person in love.

 

When you meet someone in their feelings with gentleness and kindness, truth can be more easily accepted. Gentleness and kindness are both apart of the fruits of the Spirit and I think the Church has a call to meet people with gentleness and kindness because it IS who the Father is. I need someone in my corner, even in my greatest failures and wrong thinking. I need that person to hear where I am at, to let me process, and to offer gentleness and kindness in return. I need love, not dependent on my actions, but freely given to me, just like what Jesus has done for us. When love is not dependent on action, it can look scary sometimes, but it is the most freeing experience and it draws us to repentance. It is in that radical love and empathy where we are given a gift of authority to speak into someone’s life.

 

My pastor said something one time that has stuck with me throughout the last few years. He spoke of Jesus as being the God who doesn’t just save us but gets in the closet and cries with us. He is powerful enough to save and EMPATHETIC enough to feel. Galatians 5:22-23 “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness faithfulness, gentleness, self-control...” God IS these things. He IS gentle. He IS kind. He IS patient. He IS love. Those are the attributes at work when we communicate through empathy. Not only do I see a God there connecting with his people through empathy but, I find it again and again in verses throughout scripture.

 

1Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you” and Hebrews 4:15 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet he did not sin.”

 

The Scriptures scream out that our Creator longs to connect with us IN our emotions. I am thankful to have been in a process where I can see the value and importance of empathy because now I long to connect with others IN their emotions. I long to love people well because I have needed that sort of crazy love. I long to meet them with a gentleness and kindness the world could never offer so that they might know that Jesus is a shelter. I am still learning about the power of empathy every day, but through the process, through each deep emotion I walk through, I am learning how to better love those around me.