Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another being is experiencing from within the other being’s frame of reference, i.e., the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
You feel it when you see a stray kitty, cold and hungry. It burns your heart when you see the weathered homeless man hobbling down the sidewalk, stooped over from years of hardship. You hold back the tears when you watch the elderly woman in front of you at the checkout stand, counting and recounting the change from her coin purse as she hopes and maybe prays that she has enough for the few things in her basket.
Not everyone feels empathy because not everyone can put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They can’t see the world through the eyes of the broken. They may feel sorry for someone who is obviously in a bad way but sorry is sympathy, not empathy. Sympathy looks down and feels bad, empathy sees the world from both sides, feels what others are feeling and is moved with compassion. Empathy feels the hunger of the kitty, the hopelessness of the homeless and the desperation of the poor.
The Budster and the Hosie kitty (and two other cats) came from the home of a “hoarder”. The woman’s house was filled from wall to wall with stuff. The scene would repulse many people and yes, it was sad as we made our way through the mess looking for kitties.
The Budster and the Hosie kitty were both in a bad way physically and emotionally when we rescued them but I don’t blame the woman for their plight. She is in her eighties and she was doing the very best that she could. She just needed assistance and she didn’t get it. If I blamed anyone, it would be her two sons for not stepping in when they saw her situation deteriorating.
We were empathetic to the situation that three kitties and the Budster were in but we also saw the situation through the old woman’s eyes. It hurts when we consider what she was going through every single day, alone. She is now a resident in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home and there isn’t much we can do to help her now. It is obvious by their behavior that this woman loved her babies and did what she could for them. It just wasn’t enough. She needed help, not condemnation and she certainly didn’t deserve to be abandoned by those who could have helped. They may have had sympathy but not empathy.
God breathed into each and every one of us the breath of life. His Spirit dwells within us. He is intimately familiar with our lives and He knows exactly what we are feeling. He knows the heartache, the anxiety, the fear, the desperation and the agony of failure that we feel. When we pray, we may as well be honest with him about how we feel because He already knows.
There is another side to this that we need to understand. If His Spirit dwells within us, and it does, we also see the world through His eyes. The empathy we feel, that’s from Him. That lump in our throat when we see someone in turmoil, that’s His. That tug on our heart that makes us want to help others is from His heart. It is definitely not from ours.
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing. For desire is present with me, but I don’t find it doing that which is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-22
16 Rejoice evermore.
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. 19 Quench not the Spirit.
20 Despise not prophesying.
21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
We often quote verses 16, 17, 18, 21 and 22. We skip over verse 20 because that’s an uncomfortable topic for some people and we ignore verse 19 because we don’t understand it. That’s the verse that is saying we are not to turn away when our heart breaks and our eyes leak. That’s the verse where God is saying, “Don’t tie my hands when I am trying to work through you.”
You started it when you let Him in and like everyone else, you might make mistakes. Sometimes you might get it wrong and sometimes you may not even get it at all but…
Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
God shows you the world through His eyes. You know it. Don’t quench His Spirit. Don’t turn away. Don’t suppress that good work that He has begun in you. He’s calling you to do something that no one else will do and He’s counting on you. Don’t let Him down.