Have you ever felt unheard? Listening to a young man struggling with his faith, I realized this contributed to his struggle. Frustrated that his church small group was unwilling to dialogue over a controversial subject left him confused and uncertain. He wasn’t interested in debating the subject, instead he wanted to explore the nuances of the subject without a divisive atmosphere. It became evident that wasn’t possible in that setting. In one sense, I understand this decision. Discussing some topics in today’s culture is hard.
Then he said something startling to me. “Has the church lost her empathy?”
His thoughts were complicated by the emotions he was feeling. He needed a safe place to sort out these thoughts and feelings. This is why I believe mentoring is more important than ever. It gives space to empathize, process, and understand what they are seeing and feeling.
Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, allows us to hear the other person’s emotions, even if we disagree with their conclusions. Jesus exemplified this all the time.
Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman.
Jesus stood with the woman accused of adultery.
Jesus healed the Roman soldier’s young servant.
And many other times, it was His lifestyle of empathy and compassion.
All these actions upset the Jewish leaders of His day. All were counter cultural. All required empathy and compassion. Jesus’ ability to stop in the moment and respond to the need beautifully demonstrated how to reach those around us. Jesus showed empathy before He delivered correction.
I don’t think the church has lost her empathy, but I think it may have been crowded to the side by distractions of world events. The church is full of people passionately seeking to live the way Jesus lived. In this upside-down culture, we simply need to empathetically listen to others, to love them where they are, and guide them on the path Jesus has for them.
With empathy we listen to why this subject is important to the other person. We don’t listen to defend our point of view, but to let the other person know they are important to us. Asking why questions, as Jesus did, allows us to hear their heart.
Why is that important to you?
Why do you think you respond this way to this topic?
Why do you feel that way?
Why do you believe that?
You both may be surprised by what is revealed in that safe conversation. After you get to the center of their convictions you can explore the subject together.
What do you think? How can we use empathy to better develop our relationships and further build the Kingdom of God? Let’s follow Peter’s example in 1 Peter 3:8 (NLT) Finally, all of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted and keep a humble attitude.