The Art of Empathy

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual [that is, you who are responsive to the guidance of the Spirit] are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness [not with a sense of superiority or self-righteousness], keeping a watchful eye on yourself, so that you are not tempted as well. Carry one another’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the requirements of the law of Christ [that is, the law of Christian love]. For if anyone thinks he is something [special] when [in fact] he is nothing [special except in his own eyes], he deceives himself.  (Galatians 6:1-3 AMP)

In our culture, it’s accepted, if not expected, to have an opinion on everyone on social media, in public service, and closer to home.  The only way to fill 24/7 news cycles on multiple channels is to bombard the viewer with excess non-stop commentaries, opinions, and judgments.  I found myself on a social media site for Christian music the other day.  I was dismayed at the lack of respect and judgment of those commenting on a particular post.  In our culture, it’s “my way or the highway.”  Our society has lost the art of empathy, and the church hasn’t risen above this crisis.

The cause of the crisis is that we’ve become a “me” society that has no regard for others’ points of view.  We’ve failed to take the time to evaluate why they act and think as they do.  We rely on assumptions without taking the time to walk in their shoes, asking important questions, and distinguishing between the person we see and the person they really are.  Galatians 6, verse 2 instructs us to carry one another’s burdens.  The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.  Basically, it’s taking the time to walk in their shoes to discover the viewpoint from their perspective.   We can better carry one another’s burdens if we understand the source of those burdens.

Verse 3 of the same chapter states, For if anyone thinks he is something [special] when [in fact] he is nothing [special except in his own eyes], he deceives himself.”  Each individual person has a worldview based on the complexity of their life experience, identity, perceptions, misconceptions, etc.   Each of us could witness a singular event but come through with a completely different view of that event based on our vantage point and the complexity of who we are as individuals.   We need to stop assuming people should think like us, act like us, or be just like us based on superficial characteristics.  Regardless of current movements, just because we share certain experiences or characteristics, we’re all different in how we’ve filtered those experiences and how we’ve allowed them to be woven into the DNA of our soul.

If we take the time to consider how a person has come to a particular conclusion, we’ll be less likely to judge their opinion and respect it.   Having understanding doesn’t require being in agreement.  With understanding, we may have more respect for the differences in beliefs held by others.   Through respect and understanding, we can have open dialogue in which an open exchange of varying ideas may be shared and examined.  If we follow the Scripture, not thinking we’re more special than we are, we open ourselves to learning and growing.   Again, that doesn’t mean we have to agree, but we may be in possession of more knowledge than we previously had.  With that  comes a warning:

But since we [believers] belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet, the hope and confident assurance of salvation.  (I Thessalonians 5:8 AMP)

Perhaps the thinking of the individual is of a sinful nature.  As we endeavor to understand the views of the individual, we’re right to keep a watchful eye on ourselves so that we’re not tempted as well.  Temptation comes in thoughts and actions.  We must guard our hearts in faith and love while being steadfast in our hope and confidence of our salvation.   Specifically, the Word says, a “helmet” gives us the hope and confidence.  Therefore, to not fall into temptation when opening up dialogue with those in sin, it’s important to be of sound mind and spirit by renewing your mind through the washing of the Word of God.   We must prepare ourselves for battle.  Battle?  Didn’t I just tell you to play nice because we all have different worldviews?  Yes, battle!   “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12).   We should walk in love towards those we engage in spite of our differing opinions.  The battle is likely not going to be won through argument.  The battle is won when we take our newfound understanding to the prayer closet and intercede on behalf of others.

I write this not because I’m without sin in this area; I write this because I struggle with it.  I’m very passionate about my opinions.   We fill so much time and space with meaningless words and don’t stop to pray.  In addition, our opinions are, many times, judgments.  The remedy to judgment is empathy.  We must seek to listen more.  Listen to the words that aren’t being spoken as much as the words that are. Listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and not let our own desire to be right supersede our mandate to walk in the gentleness of the Holy Spirit.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Empathy

  1. Two disciplines I enjoy are reading the Bible and prayer. Reading let’s me see and hear. Prayer works it into me and removes what needs to go. Ephesians uses the example of the Word of God washing us making us pure. We need to remember we are a people (of God) without borders but living in the Kingdom of God. I agree sis. Let’s listen more so we can be used of our Father to reach this world.👍🏼

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  2. Concerning empathy..I read where it’s important to know the difference between ‘pity’ and ‘empathy’ .. the author said that pity can do more harm than good to the other…the. Author is Oswald Chambers..it made sense. He is better at explaining!! Thanks for your blog!!

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