Empathy is a missing character attribute

Published 8:12 am Friday, August 28, 2020

There’s been a void lately in our world. This void has created a darkness and discouragement that permeates society. I have tried to determine what character attribute seems to be missing in action. As I prayed Tuesday morning, God revealed to me that empathy is exactly what has disappeared in the midst of this pandemic. One of the easiest things in life to do is to find fault in others, and to overlook what another person may be going through at that moment in life. It comes so natural to each of us to find flaws in others and what we feel they need to change, but somehow we tend to overlook our own imperfections. It is simple to say what someone should or should not do, especially when we are not walking in their shoes. Empathy seems to be in short supply during this time.
I came across this story on the internet recently about a small child. Over the day, a playmate lost her favorite doll. The playmate was heartbroken and sat on the steps to cry. When the first little girl’s mother came outside to check on the girls, she found them both sitting on the step sobbing. When she asked what was wrong, she was told through the tears that the little friend, Suzie, had lost her favorite doll. The mother looked puzzled for a bit, then asked her daughter, “did you lose your doll too?” “No,” the daughter sobbed. “Then what’s wrong with you?” “Nothing” she sobbed. “I’m just helping Suzie cry.” The Bible says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” We are commanded to be empathetic; to share the feelings of another and try our best to understand. Simply feeling sorry for folks is sympathy, but empathy leads us to deeds and words of mercy and grace! We will refrain from finding fault as we look for ways to help form a solution.
Recently, I have watched as school leaders have tried to determine exactly what method is best for education during this pandemic. They want the children educated but also, they want to protect the students and teachers. It has been touch and go to say the least, and many have stated there seems to be no completely right answer. Once again, it is easy to say what we would or would not do if we were in their shoes, but that is just it; we are not the ones making the decisions nor the ones that will be held accountable when something happens. Please pray for your school leaders and be patient as they try to make decisions not knowing what the next day will bring. Complaints and insults benefit no one, but understanding and empathy can assist them as we all go forward.  Remember, these leaders step into the firing range of social media every day and they need your support and encouragement. We, as children of God, need to be showing the love of God, and that love should not change whether we agree or disagree with their decisions. I am certain more difficult decisions will have to be made in the days ahead, so please pray and reach out to these leaders letting them know you care!
I have watched teachers cry this past week as they try to learn new ways to connect with students virtually while their own struggle with technology is real. I heard it said recently that the teachers are building an airplane while trying to fly it, and I could not agree more. I know parents are trying to work and then come home and assist their children with their schoolwork when they are exhausted and just want some down time to relax. These parents are overwhelmed and many of them are trying to do all this with little or no internet access and no electronic device. Some of these are single parents or grandparents and that presents a whole new set of problems. The school systems are doing their best to provide devices and right now there’s a shortage due to all the demand. As I write this column, I can feel the tension and stress in my own body. If we could all take a deep breath and realize that we all are experiencing our own stressful situations, and we all need some kindness and reassurance. Let’s decide to put ourselves in each other’s shoes and be as understanding and patient.
I’ve talked to many pastors lately about their desire to stop ministering because of the attitude and actions of some of the members of the flock. I have listened as they have cried and said they do not know how much longer they can take the pressure of this pandemic and the division that we have allowed it to create. These church leaders have been called faithless by some and reckless by others. Some oppose masks and some wear them continually and insist on everyone doing so. Pastors have been bombarded with information from lay members, other pastors, and the world in general when they must hear and follow that still small voice of God. It is easy to sit in a chair and make decisions for others when there is no accountability associated with them. Again, it seems no decision can be made that everyone will like or accept without lashing out. I ask from the bottom of my heart for empathy for these church leaders because they are barely keeping it together right now. None of us has ever pastored through anything like this before, and I pray that we never do again. In my 20 years of pastoring, I have never felt such a hatred, arrogance, and division as what we are currently dealing with in society. The love of many has waxed cold, and empathy seems to be a forgotten attribute.
I challenge each one of you to start moving with compassion and to make a difference by trying to understand what someone else is experiencing. We must realize that none of us has all the answers nor are our opinions perfect. Right now, everyone needs grace and mercy without condemnation.  I know we may all have different opinions and feelings toward all the topics I mentioned in the article, but can we all agree that this pandemic has been tough and trying on us all? When we can barely keep our heads above the water, empathy can be a life preserver for our drowning souls. When we casually toss complaints and rude comments at the one drowning, we do irreparable damage. Jesus moves with compassion and he is empathetic towards us all. Let’s be like Jesus and bring back EMPATHY!
(The Solution Column is provided by Pastor Brandon Young of Harmony Free Will Baptist Church, Hampton, and his associate, David Odom.)

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