What does true empathy mean to you?
To me, I remember clearly the exact moment I received word that my sweet mother-in-law had passed away.
I sat in a booth at a local bakery eating french toast over some animated girl talk. My husband ran in a relay race just outside of town. He headed home, and I drove frantically, preparing to meet him. What could I say? Or do? How could I be there for him?
In my haze, I remembered hearing something about empathy versus sympathy. I immediately texted a mutual friend, who had lost her mother suddenly a few years earlier.
I determined, I haven’t been through this, but she has. She will be able to empathize. Although she may have wondered at the spontaneous contact, our friend expressed her sincere condolences. But, truthfully, she wasn’t sure what more she could do.
I learned that day that we can experience the same (or similar) events in a variety of personal and unique ways. One unexpected loss doesn’t equal another.
In fact, nothing either of us could say or do would illustrate a perfect knowledge of my husband’s heartache, because only One other perfectly knew his heart.
Were I feeling bolder, I might assert that, although we care deeply, there is no such thing as empathy between human beings. But, perhaps it isn’t as cut and dry as that. Perhaps, as my husband suggested to me, rather than a matter of either/or, there are simply varying degrees of empathy.
It is why God gave us each other.
We often undergo intense pain with only the smallest reassurance that the heartaches we encounter will relieve another’s suffering. We may have even been the recipient of such tender feeling.
My married life also validates this theory—
Joe knows when I feel angry and need to talk (even if I don’t want to). I know when he needs to get his hands on a good outdoor project. We fill a need of deep connection for one another. We fight on the same team. We cheer each other on.
—But even this incredible blessing doesn’t eliminate all loneliness in adversity.
I will always need my God.
I find great peace in this passage of Isaiah’s; not in the sorrow of a loving Savior, but peace that, as He suffered, Jesus gave to each of us the supreme gift of empathy and redemption that only He could give.
Because of the plan of a loving Father in Heaven and His Son:
- Jesus felt my pains to succor me, my sins to help me overcome.
- He knows the hearts I’ve hurt and cares for them when I can’t fix it.
- He knows my postpartum depression, my anxiety, and my struggles with body image like no one else can.
- He notices when I am missing, seeks me out, and lifts me up.
Just as He wept with Mary and Martha, Jesus weeps with you and me.
Jesus knew that Lazarus would be okay, but He could not bear to see the pain of these women— because He experienced it!
And, though He raised Lazarus from the dead, He will not always remove our burdens. But He will never fail to help us carry them.
Of course, Jesus is the source of true empathy and cannot be replaced.
So, wherever you’re at in your journey, here’s to heartfelt prayers that He will go with you where I cannot. I testify that, no matter how dark the day, He is there to bless and keep you.