How I’ve Gotten Empathy Wrong

Perhaps it’s rare to have too much empathy.

Empathy is a word that’s been sitting persistently on my mind the last while. It came to me in a new way a couple months ago, and ever since, I haven’t really ever forgotten it. You may be confused why empathy would be a new idea to me, and the answer is, it’s definitely not. It’s the realization of the true depth of empathy and how it changes the way you live your life, that’s kind of shaken the core of my beliefs, and what I thought was true and right. And to be quite honest, it’s been shifting my perspective and opening my eyes to things I just didn’t see this way before. As cold-hearted as this sounds, I think some of us could agree that in our humanity, there can be a temptation to close our eyes to this sort of realization. It can require a lot of risk. It’s humbling. It points out the many things we don’t know, and how much we’re totally not in control.

Lately I’ve been asking myself this question, “Is it possible that we sometimes allow ourselves to be triggered by the mention of empathy and grace, because we fear the lack of control that comes with it?” It’s possible to give someone too much grace, and not enough tough love, depending on the circumstance, but maybe we use that as an excuse sometimes for not giving enough grace.

Maybe sometimes it’s actually a lot of control and fear that gets in the way of how we love other people, and how we empathize with them. It can be a hard thought to accept.

Because unfortunately, empathy isn’t always our first reaction.

Instead, we just wanna fix things.

We want control of the situation.

We want to exterminate the problem. Just get rid of it as quick as possible.

We want to be efficient.

And sometimes we almost glorify these things. But God doesn’t always operate that way, and neither does life. It’s very possible we still had good intentions behind these things, but actually line this idea up with Scripture and, well, maybe it looks a little crooked. Maybe it’s something you can actually poke a lot of holes through.

The actual idea of empathy can almost feel too deep for words sometimes. A little difficult to explain because, ironically, maybe true empathy doesn’t require a lot of words, and maybe there’s no step-by-step, black and white manual for it. Maybe sometimes it’s messy.

And maybe empathy isn’t something you just show, but something you have, give, and live. From a deeper place in your heart.

Maybe true empathy requires

More of our time.

More of our hearts.

More listening.

More understanding.

More intentionality.

More courage.

More encouragement.

Less advice.

Less fear.

Less focus on self.

Less cautious guarding of our reputation.

Less trying to be God.

Less assuming.

Less judgment.

Less pride.

Less agenda.

Less wrestling for control of the situation.

And maybe true empathy has a lot to do with this Truth: “There is only one Healer, there is only one Almighty, there is only one who is all-knowing, there is only one Righteous Judge, and I am not it. By my own strength, I cannot heal, I cannot fix, I often won’t have the power to instantly change a situation, or even necessarily make sense of it, and I don’t know all the answers. But I can have compassion. I can have empathy. I can pray, and I can sit with a hurting human as a fellow human, with a human heart and human emotions, and walk alongside them anyways. Not unsuccessfully trying to fill the role of God, but just simply filling the role of a human friend who cares.

As I write that, I catch myself taking a deeper, relaxed breath. Because maybe that’s all God expects of me. Trying to “be God” is exhausting anyways, and nobody wins. Maybe the way you win, is just by being on the same team. Being together. On the same level. Side by side.

There’s so much God has to say about empathy, and there’s an overwhelming amount of things I do not yet know about it. But I know I want more of it. Seventy times seven.

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