Empathy as a Tool for Healing
Empathy as a Tool for Healing
“Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.” Romans 12:15*
I’ve often hear people say, “Don’t feel sorry for me.” It’s a stop-and-think moment for me. What exactly does it mean?
I understand many people don’t want a pity party thrown for them. I certainly don’t want sympathy when things aren’t going the way I expect.
If I’m being completely honest with you, I feel sorry for myself when life falls apart. It takes quite a bit of wailing and prayer to pull myself together. I know this from the bottom falling out from under me last year. But instead of sympathy, it was the empathy of the people coming out of the woodwork to restore my faith, dignity, and a sense that God always looks after us.
So what can I do when a dear friend breaks bad news to me? Sympathy is a completely different concept than empathy.
Very simply put, it would seem that sympathy says, “Oh you poor thing. I feel sorry that happened.”
Empathy says, “What hurts you, hurts me. Tell me what you’re feeling. How can I help? How can I bless you and pray for you?”
I’ve had, as I’m sure as you have, people say the darndest things when we have had to disclose hard, personal experiences. Most of the time, I hope, it’s because they just don’t have the words to help soothe the pain. Sometimes it’s because they are so engulfed in their own issues that they absent-mindedly lack empathy for others. Sometimes it’s even because the other person has wanted to place blame! We all know at least one, am I right?
But when we exercise empathy and compassion, the grace of God descends into the situation. Healing can begin. Relationships can be strengthened. Hearts can be mended. Health can be restored. Peace covers like a warm blanket on a dark, cold night.
We can do that. We can be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Empathy brings a meal, buys groceries, babysits, creates space for a breath of fresh air. We only need to truly listen to the needs of the one who is hurting, no matter the reason they hurt.
Empathy doesn’t point a finger at someone who’s stuck in a valley and say, “Just snap out of it” or “You did this to yourself.” Tough love has a time and a place. But God truly knows the heart, mind, and motivation.
Let’s be reminded that “words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit – you choose.” Proverbs 18:21*
This goes for the words we speak of our own lives, and the words we speak into others’ lives.
There comes a time to help people out of their despair and depression, but sometimes meeting their needs first helps to alleviate emotional distraught.
Let's chat (in the comments below):
What are your thoughts? Has there been a time when someone showed you empathy and it brought life to your soul? Are there people around you who need hope, restoration, and healing?
Thank You Lord that you are compassionate toward me and take care of my needs. I praise You for the times that You met me in a valley and loved on me in ways I didn’t even deserve. Because of this, I have a story to tell and hope to bring others. Please remind me on a daily basis to look beyond myself, see the pain that surrounds me, and to reach out with loving arms. Reveal to me loved ones’ deepest needs so that I may bring Your peace that surpasses all understanding and resources to bear the season. In Jesus’ name, Amen
*The Message Bible 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 Eugene H. Peterson by NavPress Publishing