This week we’ve had the privilege of walking through some really tough situations with various friends and family. I’ve been vividly reminded that it’s way too easy to glibly pontificate about hypothetical situations, but when confronted with a loved one who is in the middle of a painful event it’s really difficult to know what to say that would not come across as trite, or be misinterpreted. So, we listened, we hurt alongside them, and we are praying sincerely for God’s mercy, guidance, and provision.
Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another… without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner”. I’ve always understood the bit about vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another, but after a week like this one it strikes me that perhaps the more important point here is that empathy truly occurs when we empathize without having the other’s point of view communicated in an objectively explicit manner. That means I shut up and just listen, and then echo back affirming thoughts to demonstrate that I not only heard their words, but more importantly that I feel their heart’s cry. Or maybe it’s best if I say nothing and just hurt with them. Cuz it’s not about me.
In Andrew Marin’s book Love is an Orientation he writes, “My heart breaks for those who can’t receive an answer to sexuality as easily as heterosexual Christians. I have spent many hours sitting and crying with friends, brothers, sisters or random acquaintances who struggle for any ounce of hope as they try with all of their fading might to figure out the “why” to every question that doesn’t have an answer. It helps, when a person doesn’t feel God’s presence and isn’t getting any of God’s answers to such intimate struggles, to have someone in their corner fighting with them every step of the way – not someone fighting against them every step of the way. Gays and lesbians are searching for what we (all) long for the most – good news from God.
(We) have to rely on the process, the journey, the nomadic discovery of searching for the Truth through God, alongside gays and lesbians. That is the only thing any of us can count on as a hope for stability in this existence, trying to understand our place on this earth. When the moment comes and you have to answer a crying, hurting person you care so deeply for, hurt and cry with them as you both embark on a new journey to walk side by side in discerning God’s voice in their life.”1
That’s empathy. May God help me to talk less, and empathize with my hurting friends and family more.
1 Andrew Marin. Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (Kindle Locations 1024-1031). Kindle Edition.