In this feelings driven culture it would seem that the “correct” way to show empathy is to listen without offering any solution. People want to be “heard” but they don’t want to be “told” anything.
If you do offer any assessment or solution you will be accused of judging or criticizing, or worst of all, being unloving and uncaring.
Perhaps you’re reading this you’ve already dismissed me as being unsympathetic or unloving but hear me out.
I’m sure the therapists and counselors can correct me on this, but it seems to me there are generally two reasons why someone will share a problem; for sympathy or for solutions. In reality I suppose the truth would be a bit of both.
Sympathy, and empathy are wonderful and necessary characteristics, but they are not the end themselves. They are motivators. Empathy, and sympathy should motivate us to do something. The love of God, which is Agape love, is by definition sacrificial, generous, and demonstrative. Words like sympathy and empathy are the cry of this generation but the Bible doesn't use words like symapthy or empathy. The Bible uses words like compassion and pity. What's the difference? Sympathy and empathy have to do with understanding and sharing someone's feelings... and that's a great place to start. It is important to be able to see and understand someone else's plight. To put yourself in their place, so to speak. After all that's what Jesus did when He was born into humanity as a little child. He became one of us. But He didn't come to wallow in the mud with us, He came to lift us up out of it. Compassion and pity have to do with identifying with someone's sorrow, AND being moved to action, showing favor and mercy.
He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps. Ps 40:2
Sympathy says I share your feelings of sorrow and despair. Compassion says I want to help you get out.
When I was much younger and fitter I was training to be a lifeguard. If someone fell in the pool I would listen to their call for help. I was sympathetic to their plight. I felt empathy towards them. I wanted to understand how they felt about being in the pool. I wanted to put myself in their position so I could understand how they fell in the pool in the first place. I acknowledged it wasn’t their fault and that I had no right to judge them because after all I had the privilege of knowing how to swim.
Do you know none of that mattered to the victim, they just wanted someone to save them.
I’m being a little facetious here but Im trying to make a point. I understand the value of compassion. I’m learning how to be an empathetic listener, but I will never stop trying to help someone.
There are deep and complex problems in the world. There is a lot of pain and brokenness. It has always been that way. Let me say that again. It has always been that way. We are mistaken if we think the world is any more broken today than it was when Jesus came. Yet we live in a culture that believes it has never been this bad. A society that believes no one has ever suffered the way it is suffering. Individuals who believe no one has ever had to deal with what they are dealing with… it’s the same broken world that Jesus came to redeem more than two thousand years ago. There are solutions. Jesus came to seek AND save that which was lost.
I’m all for showing empathy and kindness, but I’m going to offer a solution too. Showing compassion requires action. I want to seek out the lost, the broken and the hurting… so that they can be saved.
The person drowning in the pool won’t care how much sympathy I have if I don’t throw them a life line. It's precisely my love, compassion and empathy that motivates me to want to help!
The person drowning in sin, and sorrow, and brokenness won’t care how much sympathy I have unless I offer them a way of salvation. Jesus' compassion always motivated Him to action.
Of course you are going to say, “yeah, but…”.
Yeah, but we have to speak the truth in love. I know. Have a read of another blog titled “My opinion is not biblical truth” for more on that.