I’m just gonna jump in head first: as a child, I was sexually abused. I am a surviver of this cruel and unfathomable action by someone I was close to, I am able to empathize with others who have also been abused, whether by someone familiar or a stranger. I have an deeper understanding of their emotions, pain, depression, and loathing of either their abuser or of themselves.
As a woman who has given birth to 2 children, I have knowledge that can be helpful to my daughter who is 7 months pregnant. She is about to go through a traumatic event, and my having been in her shoes 20 years ago will hopefully be helpful for her to physically and emotionally be successful in giving birth to her daughter.
If you have not been through something, then you cannot relate as well to those who are enduring something traumatic or who need someone to lean on that truly knows what they are going through, whom they can comfortably share their hearts with.
The difference between sympathy and empathy is being able to relate and truly know what another’s painful or distressing event is like. If you are sympathetic, you are trying to understand their feelings from your own perspective, but cannot necessarily put yourself in their shoes. To be empathetic is to know what it is like in their shoes as you have been there yourself, therefore it is much easier to truly know what they are dealing with, and how they might be able to overcome it or at least get through it, because you did too.
“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.”
If there is one person who we can say is the most empathetic, it is Jesus. He lived a life as we do: he had a few close friends, but was betrayed by one and abandoned by the rest when he needed them the most; he had parents, but his dad died; he had social status as a healer/miracle worker/teacher, but publicly he was also mocked and ridiculed; he lived a lifestyle loving others by serving them, but he was murdered for doing God’s will by preaching the Good News. Jesus has been through it! If anyone can relate to us, it is surely him! He is sympathetic and empathetic to our hurts and struggles.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…..And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Whatever it is that you are in the midst of, remember that you are not alone. This time is not new, nor are you the only one who has had to go through it. Your Maker and Savior Jesus Christ is your greatest cheerleader because he has been in a very similar place that you are right now. Talk to Him, give your situation and emotions to Him. Trust him with it all, because he loves you the most. He has lived in your shoes and walked in your footsteps. What he went through, though it seemed terrible at the time, was and is being used for our good!
If you are in a season of dark storms, remember that those rains will help your roots in Christ grow deeper and your faith in God become even stronger. This is when the ‘bad’ things you have experienced can be used by you for the good of others – sympathetic empathy.
What is the greater purpose though of being able to relate to others’ situations? I believe it is more about us personally sharing – emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually – in the lives we come in contact with during their trials. When our emotions are involved, it shows our depth of caring and concern. Being compassionate in this way is living out being Christ-like! Loving in this way on someone else’s behalf brings us pure fulfillment, provides the receiver a fellow understanding companion, and God gets the glory.
Food for thought: “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Fun facts: Without empathy, our relationships are shallow. Using this gift of understanding brings a depth to our relationships.
Photo by: Kari Wiseman – Old Stone Fort Falls
(The river water falls over the rocks, creating a deep pool below. The heavier the water flow, the deeper the pool becomes. In the words of Jesus: “He who has ears to ear, let him hear”. In my words: You who have eyes to read, let your heart and mind understand.)