I try and always be mindful of life lessons that I want to make sure I impart to my children. Not just practical things such as how to change the oil in a car or dinner table manners but deeper spiritual things.
The other day while studying Romans, the Lord brought one of those life lessons to my mind.
Let me explain.
In Romans, Paul describes how we all fall short of the Glory of God and are born in sin and that death is the penalty for sin.
He goes on to say that Christ died for those sins and through belief in Him, you can be saved.
Then in chapter 12, he begins explaining how the gospel transforms believers and how our behavior should change with that transformation. Within his description of this transformation we find the following verse:
What struck me is, this wasn’t just a nice thought that God inspired Paul to write in scripture. It wasn’t just a feel-good suggestion. There is deep meaning in those 11 words, something that God wants us to truly understand. Something that is part of a Christians transformation.
So, what was Paul, through inspiration from God, trying to tell us?
He was trying to tell us that when this gospel transforms you and me, when we begin to mature spiritually, that when we see our brother or sister rejoicing in the blessing of God or weeping in human sorrow, that we will be able to step outside ourselves, to put our feet into their shoes and walk alongside them. That we would be able to “feel” what they are going through.
God tells us that we must learn to EMPATHIZE with one another.
Now, it’s easy for most of us to, “rejoice with them that do rejoice,” the struggle comes when God requires us to feel the sorrow of another person.
Most of us are fine living on the surface. Showing sympathy. But ask us to dig deep and actually empathize with a person and most of us walk away.
Sympathy says, “I’m sorry you are going through something, it must be tough.” Sympathy feels pity for someone but that is where it stops.
Empathy says, “I KNOW how you are feeling because I’ve been there.”
It’s the feeling of actually participating in the suffering of another. It requires action.
I equate it to the narrative in Exodus when the Israelite’s are fighting the Amalekite’s. As long as Moses’ hands were raised the Israelite’s were victorious. But as Moses began to tire, Aaron and Hur held up his hands.
They could have stood back and said, look at Moses, he can’t even keep his hands raised. They could have criticized. They could have said, “We need to pray for him.”
But instead, they acted and held his hands high.
Too often as Christians, we get caught in the trap of saying to those who are hurting, “I’ll pray for you.” Then we go home and before bed, we say a prayer and lift up that person and their situation and that is as far as it goes.
Prayer is good but I believe God requires more. He requires action with prayer.
It’s so much easier to distance ourselves and pray on our own, making ourselves seem holy by praying, then it is to actually share in someone’s grief and sorrow.
There is no connection, no responsibility to act and share in what is happening.
Sympathy shows thoughtfulness but there is an EMOTIONAL DISTANCE.
So often, we want to live on the periphery of what God has called us too. We talk about loving one another and caring for one another but when it comes to putting actions to words, we are too afraid to become emotionally invested.
Is this what we are called to?
I don’t believe it is. God calls us to a deeper connection. Only then can we feel true empathy.
It takes Christ-like love. It takes a transformation of how we relate to the world and those around us.
This is the life lesson I want to teach my children, to not be afraid to feel what others are feeling. To not just sympathize with those who are suffering but to have the profound empathy that Christ has called us too.