Journeys & Writings of Paul

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Empathy is a valuable gift

The title of this blog post is not a claim made to toot my own horn, since I do happen to be an extremely empathetic person, but rather because I previously despised my own empathic nature. 

The Miriam Webster Dictionary difines empathy as such:
1:  the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it

2:  the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this

Empathy is both a blessing and a curse. 

It makes you acutely aware of the moods of others in a deep and quite peculiar way; it connects you keenly with those around you. It drains you emotionally when you exist for extended periods of time in atmospheres permeated with strong emotions such as sorrow, despair, heartache, and more. Hearing or reading the news is enough to make my tender heart ache for days after the fact.

Empathy is a helpful tool. One is example from my personal experience is how empathy affords me great insight into the human experience by understanding how and why others (re)act in particular ways in various situations. There are other factors which aid in this of course, such as my natural sense of curiosity, background in sociology, other personal strengths and gifts, add life experience, and sprinkle some maturity on there as well.

As time passes my empathy continues to grow with me. Sometimes my heart feels so full of emotion, so enlarged and distorted, it feels as though it might physically burst. I have sent up desperate demands to God, saying, "Really?! My heart cannot hold another ounce of empathy!" A year ago I was pleading with God to stop enlarging my empathetic heart to the pain and the sorrow and the suffering of others. I saw it as something that made me appear weak and childish.

I no longer view empathy in that way. In the Gospel of Matthew we read that Jesus, an exemplar of unabated strength, looked upon the crowds with compassion. Jesus! The very one I strive to emulate had a heart that broke in a similar way to mine.

My heart is unable to sustain the immense weight it carries. But God's heart can. I feel privileged to be an extension of God's heart, if only in a small-reaching and temporal way, as a laborer in the harvest of God, our world.

Appreciating the gift of empathy within me is one piece of the larger journey I am on to discover and appreciate who I am and what I offer, rather than covet the the personality, gifts, abilities, etc. I so readily identify in others.