We pass like strangers in the night. Our feet dance up and down stairs and across narrow halls, hurrying to get littles fed and tucked into their beds. We move methodically—quick, quick… slow—until the day’s loud chaos calms to a hush.
Then we make our way back downstairs, where the remnants of the day’s craziness silently greet us. Physically exhausted, my husband and I sit in the midst of it, a mess of tiny toys and preschool inventions surround us. Dirty dinner dishes between us.
Postponing the inevitable, we stare at the screens in our hands. We scroll and we scroll and we read. Recalling current events and some of the responses to it, we grieve. However, we’re unaware that the reasons for much of our grief are different. Instead of sharing polite nods in agreement, thoughts shared aloud become fodder for our growing frustrations. So we discuss and debate as if the weight of the world rests on our shoulders. The passion for our arguments flows like adrenaline.
Hours later, our energy wanes. I let out a flurry of unfinished thoughts.
“So, you’re telling me…”
“It seems like you…”
They land, without resistance. Exasperated, I leave them there. Silence.
Feeling the discussion is going nowhere, I bury my head in my hands. And with the little strength I have left, I come clean.
“I just don’t understand,” I utter. From there, I ask him why he feels the way he does, why certain things seem to anger him more than others, and whether there was ever a point where he believed differently. In that moment, his answers help me see him as more than his words or ideals. Putting myself in his shoes, I begin to see him as another human being—made in God’s image—whose experiences inform his opinions and tell a story. As the discussion continues, I weave in pieces of my own story. We realize there is a sameness at the core of our differences. Although we still don’t agree on some topics of discussion, we begin to understand each other and respond with tenderness.
Debates are rough for me. I fight for the underdog, with each attack on their ideals internalized as an attack on them. I see humanness in everyone but my adversary. And it’s often escalated if that adversary is a member of my own family. The blood boils quicker. Patience runs thinner. Grace is withheld where others may receive it. I’m not sure why.
All I know is that seeing things from another perspective is hard when all we’ve ever known is our own, but empathy helps us make room for the stories, the thoughts, and the experiences of others. It also helps us make room for understanding and the type of concern and action that leads to positive change. Through empathy, we can connect with each other and love the way Jesus calls us to love. We can see those who hurt, truly bear their burdens, and weep with them. We can also rejoice with those who rejoice.
I don’t always get it right, but these days I’m trying to point to Jesus’ life and sacrifice as the ultimate examples. I believe they reveal the power of empathy at its fullest. Showing God’s love for us, Jesus put himself in our place and he carried our transgressions. He walked among sinners on earth and felt with us what it was like to be separated from God. He wept. Faced death. Jesus didn’t have to do any of that, but he did. He humbled himself and made room for us so we could have a deeper connection with him—even when we didn’t deserve it. And we are continuously made better for it.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
If that’s not inspiring, I don’t know what is.
So, here’s to hoping we can all embrace empathy and find some semblance of its power as we try to connect with others who have different views in our own lives.