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Why Empathy May Actually Save You

Overcome the two most common barriers to expressing empathy...

Okay...so you already know that being able to express empathy is a big deal. But it's not so easy to learn how to give empathy. There are strange, hidden barriers on the inside of you, whole little mountain ranges you have to cross in order to get empathetic words out of your mouth.

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Why Empathy Is Better Than Chocolate.

Sometimes I fear that my longing for empathy is closer to a craving. 

Do you know what I mean?   I want someone who leans over and (kind of) pats me on the leg and says,  “It’s okay, honey.”

           You’ll be okay.

           You’ve done enough.

           I understand how hard this is.  

Really, my question is how can something so ridiculously simple, in its essence, often feel like cold water in a desert?   How does it surpass chocolate?

Like how can you drive through McDonald’s on a frazzled day,  in search of cheap tea,  knowing you should make your own,  and the woman hands your iced tea out the window into the blazing heat and says, “There you go, darlin” …and little tears sting the corner of your eyes?   

Maybe this only happens in the south,  I don’t know.  Maybe we are just bigger empathy cravers down here.

But as I move around life,  I’ve come to believe that all of us, in a world gone crazy. we are all a bit starved for the kind word,  the stroke of empathy.  

The last time I spoke at a pro-life pregnancy center fundraiser I discovered that there are now four pregnancy centers for every abortion clinic.  And would you believe the number one reason women say they return to a pregnancy center rather than an abortion clinic?

 It’s not the ultrasound or the baby clothes or the free pregnancy test.

 It’s the kindness with which they are treated.  Kindness.     

The acceptance and warmth of another human being who meets you--not with judgment--but with kindness in the traumatic experience of being pregnant when you never intended to get pregnant.  It’s life-changing.

Oddly enough,  recent brain research underscores the power of empathy.  When we feel that someone understands,  the left side and the right side of our brains come together into more of an integrated whole.   Empathy is the precursor to what we might call “healing.”   We can hear on a deeper level.  It’s a little more possible to let go of whatever we are grasping so tightly.   Empathy soothes our soul just enough to allow our will to change. 

         There you go, darlin’. 

When you think about this life you have with Christ,  I would suggest that “empathy” is roughly what you’d call the miracle element of your faith.   

Isn’t it true that in your worst moments,  the only true comfort that sinks in deep is that this high and holy God who created all that is…THIS God suffered.   He knew the betrayal of this closest friends.  He felt the humiliation of hanging naked before a crowd of haters.    Even in glory,  he still has nail prints in His hands.  He has been there.

That this beautiful God comes along side and speaks a word of kindness when I deserve anything but—yes, this makes the corners of my eyes sting.  It’s always a surprise.

       We have never been loved like that.  

In all our afflictions,  He is afflicted,  Isaiah reminds us.   He is the ultimate source of empathy.   We are not alone.

So in this life that can be brutal and nasty, and maybe quite long,  let us be the empathy of Jesus—to each other.   Underneath our double-wear mascara,  we are all desperate for a gesture of kindness,  a personal note,  and compassion that looks someone in the eye just a few seconds longer than required.  

         Empathy.  It can rock someone’s world.  

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When the Merry in Christmas Triggers Your Sad

I caught myself today trying (very hard) to create “perfect Christmas” for those who will gather under our roof this year.

I caught myself today trying (very hard) to create “perfect Christmas” for those who will gather under our roof this year.

An endless list of details stares me in the face every morning now. The hope is that, somehow, when we gather around this table in a few weeks, all that is wrong with the world–and all that’s wrong with us–will be tied up in the stable out back.

I want a holiday dinner good enough to banish the anguish of our son and his wife, their seemingly-endless wait for a baby to adopt. How strange, really, that the laughter of my grandchildren makes me miss my mother’s presence at Christmas more? I can’t make her rolls, or fill her shoes. Her little elderly habits that could (at times) annoy Mother Teresa–even those I miss. Or better said, I’ve almost forgotten them and now, I just miss her.

Isn’t it amazing that the merry in Christmas can so trigger the sad?

What’s actually more surprising is how hard we work to have the Hallmark Christmas, when the original one was anything but.

Maybe that’s why I find the verse before the famous verse in Isaiah so compelling. So reassuring. You know the familiar words: “For unto us a Child is born.” Truly, He is a everlasting father, the Prince of Peace. But the verse we scarcely speak comes directly before:

         For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment soaked in blood and used as kindling for the fire…. 

Here’s the scene: it’s a battlefield after the battle’s done, the landscape strewn with dead bodies. It’s cold and desolate and there’s no tree standing to use for a fire. Only one option remains. Strip the garments from dead soldiers and use them as kindling for a fire. In this cameo verse, one of the worst moments of human experience is captured. And this is exactly Isaiah’s point.

Into this devastation, the Child comes. And His coming changes everything.

So, please God, let me try less hard to keep all the mess at bay. Let me give up the craziness of thinking my beautiful Christmas creation can make everything right, even for a few hours. Let me celebrate the merry in the middle of the sad.

Its there, the Savior is born.

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