As I further my skills in the counseling world, one of the largest discussions we have is regarding empathy and sympathy.
I sort of had an “aha..Jesus” moment the other day in class as we were discussing these concepts and decided to share them.
You see…our world teaches us that sympathy is how we can help people. We have the “sympathy” section for cards and when someone tells us something horrible, the first thing we jump to is “I’m so sorry…”
The more I reflect on this, the more I dislike sympathy.
To me…sympathy is a cop out. It is simply feeling bad for someone. Instead of stepping into the hurt and pain with someone and walking with them we look down on them and think about how glad we are that we are not in the same circumstances.
Sympathy is easy. We don’t have to directly address any type of hurt or pain or suffering. We just say…”wow, I’m so sorry,” bring over a cake and then we are on our way.
Further, sympathy can lead to terrible things like pity. No one that I have ever met wants people to pity them. Pity is demeaning.
So, what is the answer?
How do you actually help those who are suffering?
What is empathy? Empathy is getting on the same level as someone who is hurting and walking with them. Empathy is meeting a person exactly where they are at..no judgment. Empathy is simply sitting in the suffering and being there. Empathy does not require flowers, cookies, or ice cream; it requires time, energy, and vulnerability.
You make yourself vulnerable to feel things that are painful and uncomfortable with someone.
The ultimate example of empathy in my mind is Jesus.
It hit me in class as we were distinguishing these differences. Jesus never once looked on someone with pity. He never sympathized.
Instead He did the work of coming to our level. He meets us exactly where we are at. Each time we fall flat on our face, all we have to do is look to the side and see Jesus flat on his face, bloody, with a cross on his back, saying “I am with you”.
Jesus could have easily stayed above us and looked down with pity, but He knows better.
He knows our suffering and our pain because he actually came down to feel it and embrace it with us.
And He did that because we are worth it.
Now it all makes sense to me why empathy is one of the biggest factors in healing. We don’t need someone to look down and tell us what’s right and what’s wrong…but, instead, we need to feel so valuable that someone would actually come down into the muck with us and walk the road to healing side by side.
This is why I follow Jesus. He saved me not by beating my head with “rights” and “wrongs” or phrases like “this is how you should live…”, but by falling on the ground next to me with my cross on his back and saying “I am with you”.