The quaint old phrase ‘fellow feeling’ is not used much these days. The word ‘empathy’ is more in vogue if you are trying to explain something beyond sympathy. Those kind condolences, that sad smile or hand on a shoulder may convey sorrow that you genuinely feel for a person in grief. Such sympathy may be shown with flowers, a baked cake or a cup of coffee but it is something less than empathy where that sorrow is deeply known and understood because it has been part of your experience too. You’ve walked that walk along that path and in those shoes, fully engaged, feeling the slope of the hill of sorrow and the hard ground through the soles. Comfort from a friend who truly empathises is akin to someone walking with you and carrying your backpack to ease your load. These swaying reeds speak of God’s empathy with us.
- ‘The great gift of human beings is that we have the power of empathy’ - Meryl Streep
- ‘Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms’ - Sterling K Brown
- ‘Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn’ - Alice Miller
- ‘In my view, the best of humanity is in our exercise of empathy and compassion. It’s when we challenge ourselves to walk in the shoes of someone whose pain or plight might seem so different than yours that it’s almost incomprehensible’ - Sarah McBride
Back to those reeds. They feel the wind, they sway. In the storm, they may break. Perhaps you are feeling stronger winds coming your way or you observe a friend who is at the point of collapse. Even if you don’t fully understand their turmoil, you could intervene and put something around them to act as a windbreak. This is one image used by Jesus.
- ‘A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out’ - Matthew 12:20
- ‘You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways’ - Psalm 139:1-3
- ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ - Hebrews 4:15-16
- ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross’ - Philippians 2:6-8
Jesus took flesh and became one of us to understand us from the inside, what it is to be human with all the pressures and challenges that we face in life. He came as the suffering servant spoken of by Isaiah, the one who would so identify with us that he could take our sin and weaknesses upon himself, bearing our shame and even our punishment. Graham Kendrick wrote about God who is Immanuel, the One who is with us:
He walked where I walk, He stood where I stand
He felt what I feel, He understands
He knows my frailty, Shared my humanity
Tempted in every way, Yet without sin
God with us, so close to us
God with us, Immanuel!
This is true empathy. Contrast that with people who either won’t cross the road to speak with you or come and make you feel condemned as if what is happening is your own fault. Job spoke of ‘miserable comforters’ who did just that and left him feeling worse than before. There is an inconspicuous Nepalese Christian woman similar to Mother Teresa who empathises to the degree that she sees a person in need, assesses the need and makes the necessary provision much as the Good Samaritan. She is able to do this because she has known real poverty herself and now gives from what she has received because of her faith. To some extent, this is ‘incarnating Christ Jesus’ where she is - Christians are all called to bring the salt and light of Christ to those around us in need. Why do we do this? It is only because we can give from what we have first received ourselves.
‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God’ - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Jesus tells us to consider the lilies of the field as we seek first the Kingdom of God (see Matthew 6). When you see some reeds or grasses swaying in the wind, let it remind you of how the Lord cups his hand around them so that they do not break. Let it spur you on to empathise with others as he has empathised with you and still does, every day to watch over your battles in this body of flesh until those struggles are over and he calls you home.
TAGS – priest, burdens, troubles, care, trials, tribulation, help, prayer, rescuer