What Is True Empathy?

Greatest of All by Del Parson

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53: 4-5 KJV

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.

Photo Credit: @bethanydraperphotography

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.

Original photo can be found here.

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.

❤ Jenny

14 thoughts on “What Is True Empathy?

  1. Your post reminds me of Hebrews 4-Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Someone already quoted the Hebrews passage that comes to mind. That sums up just about everything. The only thing I would add in addition to your post (which was wonderfully written, for the record), is the account in Genesis 2. In the previous chapter we read that God created everything in six days and He did so perfectly. He saw it was good. In Genesis 2 we take a step back and look closer at day 6. Everything was perfect but God saw that man needed a helper–not a slave, not a servant, but a helper–that was comparable to him. Even when everything was good and perfect, God still saw the need to make it even more good and perfect. “It is not good that man should be alone” (2:18). There were no burdens in the Garden but the social creatures that God created would need someone to share in it. Thankfully, as as you aptly pointed out, our greatest burden was carried by Jesus who still carries our lesser burdens.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. This is so touching, thank you. I missed the connection to Genesis until you pointed it out, but what a testament to how much God believes in us building and lifting and finding joy with one another.

      I also love how you mention Jesus continues to carry our lesser burdens as well. Those are often the ones I forget He is with me in, thinking it’s just a small thing and I can do it on my own. But I can’t, and He is there no matter how small.

      Thank you for your kind words ❤️.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes ❤️, I love how you put that. It’s difficult to see the ones we love in pain, but it’s nice to know He is watching over them. And He helps us to empathize, as you say.

      Like

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