Finding Empathy

By Amber

 

The walk from being in sin and in much need of Christ, to becoming a Christian and growing in His likeness ought to be a very careful one.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about myself because I really do hate how far removed I’ve become from the person I used to be. My past is one that’s difficult for many people to understand. I made really, really bad choices, I was in a lot of bad situations, and my family went through a lot with me, and spent a lot of money over the years trying to get me help. It was easier then to have a sort of humility and to pause before judging others, because I often felt unfairly judged myself.

Unfortunately, once I emerged from that and once I became a Christian, when I put off those “big” sins, removed myself from that lifestyle and really tried to change, I lost the sort of empathy that comes with hardship. The more time that passed, the less I related to people who struggled with the same things I had or who made decisions that other people couldn’t understand. The harder it was to love.

I don’t think everyone has this problem. But I do. This is really for me.

There are other things that factor into it; certain things about my personality make it very difficult for me to be a Christian, or to commit to different projects and challenges. I have a very burdening black-and-white way of thinking of things- which not only affects the way I respond to others, but it definitely affects the way I treat myself when I’m not meeting Biblical standards. Sometimes I feel like anything less than perfection is unacceptable. And that, more often than not, leads to overwhelming discouragement.

Since we’re always going to have temptations, stumbling blocks and struggles, we need to be prepared for the temptation of pride or lack of compassion for those who haven’t reached our “level” or “understanding.” I know people that seem to have lost basic human understanding and simply can’t relate to those who stumble or struggle or don’t live godly lives. And I’ve seen people just write others off as selfish or worldly or lost, not in a compassionate way, but in a washing-their-hands-of-them way.

At times, I’ve felt that way toward others.

And at times, I’ve been the person that others were fed up with.

I’ve really been struggling lately. There are a lot of things about myself that are discouraging, and there are a lot of things about attitudes that I’ve seen that are also discouraging. So between the two, I feel stuck and unable to move forward because moving forward means acknowledging and accepting the ways that I’ve failed, and it also means facing the difficult sides of people in a way that is Christlike, and not in a way that satisfies the flesh (like throwing up my hands and moving to a remote island ;)).

For those of us who can look back on our lives and remember a shameful time, or phase or shameful years- I really, really encourage us to not live in the past, but to not forget it. I need to remember that I was not born with the understanding I have now, and I also need to realize that we all move at different paces. And sometimes it takes outrageous life circumstances to teach us some of those lessons; mistakes sometimes have to be made. And I also need to remember that so many things influence a persons decisions. Of course we’re responsible for our actions, but I think it is so sad when we disregard the truth that 1) we’re all going to fall 2) we are all weak at times 3) some situations, especially several difficult and emotionally exhausting situations combined are easily overcoming. Instead of defaulting to “well, the Bible says this, so…” I think we would do our struggling brethren more help by offering an understanding shoulder first. One thing I know is that we have all done things that are regrettable or confusing or embarrassing, and just because it may not be the exact same thing as so-and-so did, it likely stemmed from the same root: weakness, negative influences, hardship, exhaustion or just good ol’ fashioned strong temptation.

Patience, understanding, compassion, love, empathy, long-suffering.

I need to work on these.

I’m thankful for a friend that has unknowingly helped me realize some of these things, and has also helped confirm that you really have no control over anyone else. Sometimes people need to figure out things for themselves. And sometimes the black-and-white approach to sin backfires and alienates those you’re trying to help, especially with people that are already familiar with the Bible and right and wrong. Though we don’t have control over others, we do have influence and sometimes those people need the influence of a friend to guide them gently, and a friend who has enough faith and patience to let them make mistakes and come to conclusions on their own.

My road to God is still incomplete, but my road to even baptism was winding and at times discouraging, and at other times going in the complete opposite direction- anyone on the outside that cared probably had a lot of anxiety wondering where I would end up. Ultimately, though, when I was looking for God, I found Him. And when we deal with other people, we need to remember that it is ultimately up to them and God. We don’t sit in the judgment seat, thankfully.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22, 23

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” – Colossians 3:12

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galatians 6:2

* I am not saying there is no time for confrontation, or strong words, admonitions, or that there aren’t people that do just walk away from the faith with a hardened heart. What I’m saying is that a change of our own heart is often called-for, that we should treat others favorably, assume the best- even if we’re wrong. It’s okay to be wrong about someone’s heart, especially if we assumed they had a good one. All I’m asking for is that we soften our general disposition toward others, especially others that need help.

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3 thoughts on “Finding Empathy

  1. Sometimes I think we (including myself) forget just how Jesus defined justification in hard and desperate situations like that: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing afar off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house JUSTIFIED (emphasis mine), rather than the other” (Luke 18:10-14).

    Sometimes we just need to give it to God.

  2. Powerful Points to Ponder. What transparency my friend. You described me too. But now I am the person that stays with you when others leave; I give hope when others say “there’s no hope.” I give what was given to me through My Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! YES – I finally got it!!

  3. I appreciate you openess and the fact you reflect upon your attitude in a way that many don’t do. This post did make me think of a great Casting Crowns song: “Jesus Friend of Sinners”. This is a song I listen to when I start to feel a bit superior.

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