Everywhere I look, there seems to be division, conflict, tension, and discord. Politically, personally, in our churches, in our communities. We’re drawing lines and picking sides, and it’s causing all kinds of problems all over the place.
It’s breaking my heart to witness, and I can only imagine how much it’s grieving the heart of the Father who created all of us as beloved children. No matter where you live or what season of life you’re in, you can surely think of several examples in your world where you’ve come up against people who are different than you in one way or another — it’s inevitable (and, I’d argue, beautiful).
We can try to fight things to the death, debating and discussing and dialoguing to try to force some kind of consensus or compromise, or we can try a different approach. It’s one I’m more drawn to, honestly, and one I think might actually make more of a difference.
I say we try empathy.
I don’t need to agree with someone on the other side of the political spectrum to understand that their beliefs are valid and their convictions tightly held for good reasons, just like mine. I don’t need your faith in God to look just like mine to appreciate you are on a journey just like me, and none of us have it all figured out. Your sexuality might be different than mine, your family dynamics might be different than mine, your ancestry might be different than mine, your mental health might be different than mine… but I can love you just the same.
I can extend the same grace to you that has been so generously extended to me by a good and merciful God. I can bless you with forgiveness the same way I have been so undeservingly forgiven by my Father. I can turn the other cheek instead of lashing out. I can be slow to speak and quick to listen. I can be slow to anger even when tensions run high. I can walk alongside you for an extra mile, just to try to understand your journey better. I can offer you a seat at my table, invite you in to my world, share experiences and moments and conversations with you, choosing to do life with you despite the ways in which we differ.
Because empathy? It looks a lot like Jesus to me.
It looks like choosing people, choosing relationship. It looks like love instead of hate. It looks like unity instead of division. It looks like peacemaking instead of arguing. It looks like grace in action, like mercy made tangible, like kingdom building here on earth.
It looks like compassion, and it looks like Christ.
It’s less about being right, and more about humility. It’s less about pride, and more about presence. It’s less about rules, and more about heart.
It can be hard to embody empathy, especially when we come up against something unfamiliar or brand new to us. Here are a few questions, postures, and ideas I hope are helpful when it comes to being more empathetic people:
- Ask “tell me more about _____.” This puts you in a posture of humility and allows another person to share their feelings, experiences, and thoughts with you. Listen graciously and ask clarifying questions where they arise.
- Spend time in places outside of your comfort zone. Visit a new church one Sunday morning. Spend an afternoon in a cafe in a different area of town. Try a restaurant with food from a different ethnicity than your own. Take a day trip to a nearby small town or a big city or a rural area. Be an observer and a participator!
- Follow new and diverse voices on social media. Make an effort to not just follow people who look like you, think like you, act like you. Add variety to the sources who are speaking into your life, and you’ll be better for it.
- Pray for eyes to see and ears to hear. The best way we can grow in empathy is by allowing the Holy Spirit to move through us and change our hearts. Pray daily for opportunities to practice being more empathetic.
- Ask yourself what bias, privilege, or pride is affecting your attitude or response to another person or situation. This requires some serious self-reflection, but if you feel a negative feeling rising up inside of you in response to something or someone, start to analyze that. Maybe what you’re feeling is fear. Maybe you’re just caught off guard. Maybe the Lord is stirring something in you and breaking some chains in you that have been holding you back!
I don’t have many answers to how to solve the big problems and questions in our world today, but I do know that I want to live in a way that shows this hurting world who Jesus is and how he loves. I think empathy might just be the key.