Empathy Requires Humility
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. (Romans 12:15-16)
Genuine empathy requires humility. But humility is developed by suffering. In this way, God equips us to be more authentic ministers of the grace of comfort.
For example, before our miscarriage on Christmas Day 2006, I did not weep with other couples in the same way that I weep now. My heart grieved with them, to be sure, but my sense of loss grew significantly deeper as a result of our own pain.
It was our ninth pregnancy, but our first miscarriage. I didn’t cry…at first. I didn’t have time. My strength and presence were needed by my wife. Karen was exhausted mentally and physically. Emotionally, she was spent. At the time, our two youngest children were still toddlers. Both were hearing-impaired, one with significant cognitive disabilities and Autism. So, I knew what Karen needed most was for me to quietly take care of everything while she rested, and her body healed. So that’s what I did. I kept moving on, because that’s what life does.
It just keeps moving on.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps you know from experience that even though it may feel like life stands still for a moment—that it gets put on hold when you grieve loss—it really doesn’t. It just keeps moving. There’s still work to be done, laundry to finish, meals to prepare, bills to pay, people to care for, sermons to preach, employers to please, and deadlines to meet. Life keeps moving.
It’s. Just. Different.
There’s an unusual kind of strength, an adrenaline of sorts, which naturally takes over and helps us “plow through” our immediate responsibilities and decisions. But once things are back to normal, so to speak, we have time to cry. I did. I cried like a baby, though I didn’t see it coming. A couple weeks later, while driving through the snowy countryside on a Wisconsin backroad, I started weeping.
Since I was no longer needed as much, the reality of our loss hit me in full force. Our baby—my son or daughter—was gone, taken from us before we could say hello. Through the tears, I could hardly see to drive. But my tears carried with them the strange power of cleansing and release of pent-up emotions. They became a vehicle for my heart’s acceptance of the will of God. Tears moved me closer to the humility-driven empathy the verses quoted at the top of the page exhort us to practice.
Therefore, it’s not accidental that the command to empathize with others emotionally is followed by the exhortation to “not be haughty” (arrogant, proud), but to “associate with the lowly.” To be humble is to not “be wise in own sight,” but view ourselves accurately, as God sees us. Not higher. Not lower. And to be humble is to “count others more significant” than ourselves, to look not only to our own needs, but “to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4). By doing so, we emulate the compassion of Jesus
Are you growing in empathy toward those who hurt?