The Power of Empathy

There’s a person in our community who I have been serving and ministering to for years.  Over that period of time, I have come to genuinely care about this person and we have become friends who enjoy visiting with one another.

This person, who I will refer to as “J,” has been homeless for a very long time.  But the other day, “J” came by my office to share with me the news of “J”‘s approval of an apartment that “J” will be moving into this week.

We were both so excited that we high-fived and hugged each other because we knew that this was a life-changing moment for “J.”

Since this was something that we had been praying for and working toward for quite some time, “J” was moved to thank me for “always being there” and for being a trusted friend who was willing to walk through difficult times with “J.”

In addition, “J” said these words: “You have always shown me empathy.  Even though I know you don’t understand everything about me, you have always shown empathy and love.  Thank you.”

To fully appreciate the impact of “J”‘s words to me, you probably need to know that “J” is transgender.  So, “J” is right in saying that I don’t understand everything about “J” or “J”‘s life experience.  Our connection as friends has never been built on a perfect understanding of each other; rather, it is the result of recognizing each other as fellow human beings and seeing the good in one another.

I don’t mean for this story to come across as a “pat myself on the back” moment; instead, I share it as a reminder of the power of empathy.  That’s what stood out to me about “J”‘s comment.  I can’t remember when I have been thanked for my empathy!

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must understand that we can have more of an impact on this world through our empathy than by shouting down or shaming those who don’t agree with us.  And we need to remember that showing empathy to others is not a “watering down” of the gospel nor does it represent a compromise of our beliefs.  The truth is that empathy empowers the gospel and shines the light of Christ for others to see.

And if we cannot show empathy to others, then we have fundamentally misunderstood the gospel and the change it ought to make in our lives.

Colossians 3:12-14 says, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.  And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

This week, make it your goal to show empathy to someone you work with, to be kind to your neighbors, to display compassion to your spouse, to be patient with your kids, to forgive those who need forgiveness, and to lead with love.

You never know the impact it might make.

Just ask “J.”


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