Human beings are not innately wired to be drawn towards anything uncomfortable. We flee from pain and discomfort with a quickness, if given the the slightest opportunity for relief. This truth certainly pertains to the discomfort of emotional pain. Just as we detest the process of rehabilitating an injured body part, walking through the trench of emotional pain, whether our own or belonging to another person, is filled with similar reluctance and great discomfort. It is so much easier to give up and let the body, or the heart, atrophy and become immobilized.
When it comes to the matter of having civil, brave and transparent conversations about the differences that exist among us, the ability to be empathetic is the key to making any notable and lasting headway in this arena. Without the ability to be empathetic, we dwell and fester within our own nests made of the material of our choosing.
Renown nursing scholar, Theresa Wiseman identified four attributes of empathy:
Perspective taking - The ability to walk in another person’s shoes or look from the chair whence they sit is imperative to understanding. In order to see what another sees, we must move our own “junk pile “ out of the line of vision. I know…ouch.
Stay out of judgement - Enough said...The struggle is real and only with great intentionality can we gain success in regards to this step. Our impulse is to default on this step in that it means we can not excuse the situation in order to satiate our desperation for comfort.
Recognize emotion in other people - We must really work hard and pray for understanding when it comes to the feelings of others. Recognizing emotion in others means that we set our emotions to the side for the moment.
Communicate an understanding of what another person feels - Fight the urge to fix it or to highlight the good parts. Do not diminish the pain of another with your desperation to free yourself from the rawness of the moment. Be strong enough to say “ that is painful” and then just sit in that pain with the person for a moment…or two.
There is no other way to gain substantial footing in this journey. We live under the example of the cross. The story of the cross is our reminder of what love is and how to love others. Separation creates desperation. Our cozy corners provide nothing to us but atrophied muscle mass. In order to be empathetic, we must scoot closer to those that differ from us. We must get uncomfortable in order to achieve true contentment. Until you sit at the foot of the old rugged cross, you do not quite understand the story that makes empathy non-negotiable in the lives of believers. An empathic heart is the starting part. We should have an insatiable yearning to know others that differ from us and an understanding that it is the calling to which all believers are to submit. There is no hierarchy, in that we are all as filthy rags, saved by grace.