Hey Tresa, Ed, Sharon, Matt, Deb, Dolly, Blake, Brenda, and Doyle, this is for you!!!!
Empathy. It’s a beautiful thing. It may not be something you give much thought to until you need it. You think you’re empathetic, but then one day you wake up and say to your wounded self, “Which neighborhood street corners, store entrances, and business offices are wheelchair accessible? Crikey, how am I going to get to Safeway, Physical Therapy, and The Real Tequila (I can’t go very long without good Tex-Mex)?” It’s then you realize you never really thought about, or even noticed, handicap accessibility before.
And not just empathy for physical handicap challenges. It’s like you lived for decades thinking you “don’t have a racist bone in your body” until that “Aha Moment” when you realize how offensive you have been to people of color without even knowing it. You’re carelessly throwing around microaggressions right and left without giving it a second thought. All the while you’re the emperor with no clothes showing off your racist bone structure, thinking you’re so sensitive to those around you.
Then you fall down the stairs…
Moving to a new town, with a freshly fractured knee, left me depending on the kindness of strangers. It’s hard to ask for help, especially from people you barely know (or haven’t been around for over 40 years). Fortunately for me there are a lot of empathetic people living here. I was carted around to appointments, church, and fun outings all because people wanted to help. Some jumped in without being asked. That touched me. Those generous people made me wonder how I would rate on the empathy scale.
Brene Brown, in her TED Talk on empathy, discussed the difference between sympathy and empathy. One way she explained it was that sympathy is feeling for someone who is in a deep hole while empathy is climbing down into the hole with them. I think I’ve spent more time talking to needy folks from on high instead of getting dirty and crawling down there with them. Makes me sad. Sorry friends I may have failed. (OK, saying “may” have failed is a coward’s apology. Here I go–Sorry friends I failed!)
I’m grateful for the example people showed me this summer while I was at a very low point. They showed up. Showing up is huge. It’s empathetic. It’s helpful. Hollering “get well soon” from above isn’t. Not that get well sentiments aren’t also greatly appreciated, (because believe me they are!!) but it’s nice to have someone willing to get down in the trenches with you and help.
We all have different gifts. Some people have that sacrificial gift of empathetic service. Others have gifts of finances, leadership, exhorting, or grace. I’ve seen lots of those people over my lifetime, too. We all have a role in this life. Different gifted roles for differently gifted folks.
The Apostle Paul gives direction in I Corinthians 12…
A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other…Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part…and God has put each part just where he wants it…Are we all apostles? Are we all prophets? Are we all teachers? Do we all have the power to do miracles? Do we all have the gift of healing?…Of course not!…But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.
And that my friends is where the great LOVE chapter begins. Without love, any gift you have doesn’t matter. I think love is what takes us from sympathy to empathy. It’s what makes us look at people different from us in physical ability, skin color, intelligence, or whatever it may be, through a lens of compassion. It gives us a desire to understand and help.
I’m not fond of the sentiment, “Everything happens for a reason.” I believe things happen, and God can take those events and turn them into a positive thing for His glory (Romans 8:28). God doesn’t desire rape, murder, or falling down the stairs to happen to his children. But he allows it to happen so that He can be glorified, cause us to grow and watch Him work in ways we wouldn’t be able to if a particular event hadn’t happened. So yes, that may cause some to say everything happens for a reason, but I like my spin on it better.
As the light at the end of my tunnel is beginning to shine, I choose to look at The Summer of 2022 this way:
Dana in a wheelchair = BAD
Dana seeing empathy in action = GOOD
I’ve been able to grow, learn and be blessed by strangers who are now my friends. Glory to God for that!
*I can’t take comments here but feel free to comment on the Facebook post. How have you seen empathy in action in your life?