Friday, February 08, 2008

empathizing with others

To empathize means to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. To try to understand their perspective and what life is like for them. This is not easy to do, because we sadly tend to see everything and everyone in relation to ourselves, and how everything and everyone meets our own needs.

Really, God is to be at the center, and we're to be in the periphery alongside others. This includes those who know the grace of God in Jesus, and those who do not. It even includes our enemies. We need to listen and try to understand where the other person is coming from. We need to try to hear what they might really be saying behind the words they actually are saying. Or maybe even in their silence.

Jesus is the Empathizer par excellence. He became one of us, fully human, though God- yes, fully and completely human. He lived among us in relative silence for nearly thirty years. Surely part of that was coming to understand both first and second-hand, life here on earth as a human. All the ways that people clamor and grope for real life. What it is like to live as a human in a fallen, broken world. And to do so in relational terms.

Then for around three years he called those in Israel to a new kingdom, not from this world, but invading this world in him, the kingdom of God. And he called them to a follow him, but only in accordance with this kindgom come, and the new covenant coming with it. But even in the midst of this we find over and over again many acts and words from Jesus which show his clear empathy with others. But always in line with the will of his Father. Anything out of line was considered an enemy, considered even Satan himself.

This is the way we need to take, in Jesus. It's a way of utter empathy in listening to others. Seeking to hear what even the most rebellious are saying. Then it's the way of extending a heart and hand of healing in Jesus' name, by sharing ourselves, our love, and seeking to fellowship and enjoy their company. And in that, sharing the love of God to them in Jesus, and something of the reality of this kingdom of God come in him. To point all to the new covenant in Jesus which brings in the beginning of the new creation in him, even here and now.

I need to ever empathize with others. I do that by embracing the pain that's in my own heart and life. Bringing that to God. Seeking at all times to have God at the center of my life and existence, not myself. And seeking to help others on the periphery find this same God, in Jesus.

What might you like to add about empathizing with others?


lorenzothellama said...

Know what you mean Ted, but isn't it hard empathizing with people you don't like.

I don't know if you have ever heard of Donald Soper. He was a methodist preacher, and became Lord Soper, even though he disapproved of the House of Lords, but he thought he could do better to ban it if he were on it inside than the outside.

He was a fierce old boy, but I really loved him and heard him speak just once, although I have heard recordings of him many times.

I always remember he said 'you don't have to like everyone, but it is your duty as Christians to love them'. Easy said old Donald but so hard to carry out.

lorenzothellama said...

I'm sure you could google Donald Soper to find out more about him.

Betsy Lin said...

Something about this reminded me of what Thomas Merton once wrote.

" To consider persons and events and situations in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell"

Its a brave statement but I think it holds a lot of truth. I think you cant empathize with ones situation simply by imagination. A great professor of mine once told me that to empathize with someone we must into into their pain or their joy. In that we allow our selves to be silent, so only to hear and see the other person.
I could never empathize with the homeless until I entered into it- yes I could have compassion, and feel sorry- but not until I spent a few nights on the street did I really have the ability to 'walk in their shoes' Empathy is a learned characteristic I think- Jesus had empathy because he entered into our sin.

Anonymous said...

this reminds me of the story that corrie ten boom told of meeting her german captor and needing to force herself in faith to hold out her hand to shake his when he asked for forgiveness. and when their hands met the Holy Spirit flooded her body and mind and heart with forgiveness for him. extending her hand in faith to God, that God would take care of the change in her heart.

interestng how in faith and looking to Jesus, our human thoughts and feelings can be filtered through the Holy Spirit.

Rachel Mc said...

This is a great post, and empathy is truly indeed a learned characteristic. I think learning empathy goes hand in hand with someone's spiritual growth. It is very difficult to empathize with people you don't like and my natural reaction is to leave the situation and walk away from the person. On the flip side, I have had tough emotional situations happen to me and it was amazing which family and friends stepped up and shared my pain and tears. Some people I thought would be there for me weren't......and I now get ignored and I thought it was because they hold me responsible somehow. I think it is because they can't empathize or won't because they can't handle the pain and tears. This post has given me a new way to think about them.

Ted M. Gossard said...

That Donald Soper, an interesting guy, and a teetotaler, to boot!

Yes, I agree with the idea that we need to love those we don't like. I also think we need to find things we can like about them, find God's image in them. Try to build bridges and tear down walls. But not always easy.

I think Jesus found much of Pharisaism despicable in his day, but he would have loved any Pharisee, and did reach out to them- evident in the New Testament, though it's also evident that this group and their agenda or "platform" was set against him.

Jesus calls Christians to love their enemies, to pray for them, to do good to them. And we should seek to learn to listen and empathize as in understanding them. Not easy, I agree.

Anonymous said...

Her teaching focused on the Christian Gospel, with emphasis on forgiveness. In her book Tramp for the Lord (1974), she tells the story of how, after she had been teaching in Germany in 1947, she was approached by one of the cruelest former Ravensbrück camp guards. She was reluctant to forgive him, but prayed that she would be able to. She wrote that,

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.

this is taken from a wikipedia web page

Ted M. Gossard said...

Betsy Lin,
Yes. I so much agree.

It burns me personally to no end when I hear politicians who really have no plan to help those in the health care mess and crisis that exists in our country. I have good friends, the wife cuts her tablets in half- medication the doctor tells her she must have to live, because they can't afford the outrageous cost even though he works. If you knew their story you would know that they're not, at all, freeloaders on society.

Because I've seen this firsthand, having worked to help them over a period of time, I empathize to the point of taking it personally.

So any politician who wants my vote who can do anything about this, better address this concern.

So I know too what you mean.

And I much appreciate what you do and have done. I remember those pictures of you with the people in Philadelphia, out on the streets in the cold of Winter.

Thanks for sharing that good quote, your experience, and your thoughts on this.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks so much for sharing and reminding us of that wonderful story.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks for your kind words, and for sharing that.

I think sometimes it helps us in empathizing with others, particularly with those who have disappointed us, to look back on our own lives, and see our failures, things we did that we shouldn't have, and especially I'm thinking of our failing to do things that we could and should have done. Of course for me, it's much easier than for you, as I've lived a good number of years more than you have.

Maybe those people who have disappointed you need you to reach out to them in a special way. It can be hard to do that with the hurt we carry from the disappointment. But it's certainly the way of our Lord; he seems to have never given up (from my point of view) on Judas or on his own family of half-siblings.

Anonymous said...

no it is not yet another blog to read...well kind of another...but not YET another. this is good and an interesting journey going on for this blogger.


Halfmom, AKA, Susan said...

Great post Ted. It reminds me of one of my favorite scriptures - which I have to recite to myself quite frequently since I have a tendency to forget that Jesus understands personally everything I go through and can therefore help me -

Heb 4:15 - "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are--yet was without sin."

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Susan.

I need that reminder too, that even in my brokenness and even in my sin, Jesus is there for me. And of course to help me when down or struggling or in trial.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Nancy. I did take a look. Nice looking blog. Good to see another blogger acting on their faith.