Thursday, May 16, 2013

Entering the Empathy Zone

By Brenda Black

Warning: For the more stoic, this may be difficult to read. I'm a hugger and a crier and a share your pain, feel your pain, walk through your pain with you kind of gal. So for those of you who shed no tears and cringe at the thought of an embrace, this is your final are about to enter the “empathy zone.”

Some call it a blessing; others a curse – this ability to put yourself into the shoes and soul of another. I believe it is a gift, all be it a gift that must be handled with care. For the personal toll it sometimes takes can wreak havoc on one who lovingly bears the weight of so many.

As a pastor's wife, I take on the cares of many. As our years of ministry grow, so does the list of those I love and continue to lift in prayer. But long before I was a preacher's wife, I was a confidant to many a classmate who trusted me with their biggest worries and deepest secrets. In college, though I didn't work as a Resident Assistant, I frequently had girls at my door asking for counsel and prayer and a sympathetic ear. I guess God was grooming me for such a time as this.

Bearing another's burdens is indeed a heavy burden to bear and there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the emotional strain, but I never have regretted bringing hope and compassion to someone in crisis. Rejoicing with those who rejoice is a whole lot more comfortable than mourning with those who mourn. Both are important. The latter just demands a greater emotional investment.

So, what's that investment worth? It's worth gold to the one it is given. It's full of grace by the One from which it is gifted.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

“But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:

“'When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.'” (Ephesians 4:1-8)

In just one week I used this “unity of Spirit, to rejoice and mourn for countless friends watching their babies grow up and move on. I grieved deeply for a friend who endured an unimaginable tragedy. I cheered and laughed and celebrated end-of-school accomplishments for dozens of young friends. I partnered in prayer for sadness and final exam stress.

It's called the human touch when one person cares enough to feel for someone else. It's exhausting and exhilarating! This charge to be the Lord's helping hands and compassionate heart gives hope when it's needed most. And bearing one another's burdens sends a clear message to the rest of the world about the Christ we serve.

“'A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. All men will know that you are my disciples fi you love one another.'” (John 13:34-35)

One of the best ways to show love is to live the pain of another as if it were your own, for no one should have to ever go through the hard things in life alone. It's your choice whether you enter the empathy zone or keep a safe distance. Just know that once you cross the threshold, you'll never be the same and that's a good touchy-feely thing.

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