Empathy 101

Are you empathetic? That is a question I have had to ask myself lately. I have been studying this quality called empathy and have been challenged to work on improving this competency in myself.

Here are several definitions of empathy:

“A motivation oriented towards the other” – Daniel Batson

“To empathize means to share, to experience the feelings of another person” – R. R. Greenson

So empathy is to feel what another person feels and to be able to express that emotion yourself. This is a competency that when developed helps you to tune into the other person’s thoughts and feelings. The basic ability to recognize emotions is for most people something you learn as a child. It is almost an unconscious thing you do. Yet it is something that you can improve at and learn to increase accuracy and intensity.

Most people are more able and willing to empathize with people they like or know well. We tend to empathize best with the people closest to us. The more contact we have with someone the more likely we will be in tune with their emotions, unless of course we are not developing this competency.

Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is more about feelings and sympathy is more about actions. You sympathize when you express how sorry or happy you are for them. If you are a highly empathetic person, you are most likely also sympathetic, but a person that is sympathetic and not empathetic can come across as shallow and will not connect emotionally. Their actions or words comes across as more of a conditioned response than a compassionate understanding.

Empathy has some benefits:

  • Empathy connects people together – you are more drawn to someone empathetic.
  • Empathy heals
  • Empathy builds trust

So how do you improve your empathy quotient? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Pay attention – Are you fully present when you are with people? Do you give people your full attention or are you thinking about your next task or appointment? Do you consciencely look for body language signals when talking with someone? Are you conscience of your own body language when you are interacting with someone?
  • Try to get a sense of actually being in the other persons shoes – What would it be like if this was my situation? What must it feel like to have grown up like they did?
  • Imagine the other person as a child – This can be very helpful for people that are irritating or threatening.
  • Ask questions – What was that like? How did you feel? How did you handle that?
  • Look beneath the surface – What does the other person most deeply want? What is broken in their lives?
  • Slow down – When you are running 100 MPH it is very hard to stop and be empathetic.

Of course empathy does not happen if you don’t care about people. Selfish people don’t empathize well. Many leaders struggle with this as well, because they are highly motivated and goal oriented. Empathy takes time and you almost need to go in slow motion to really empathize with someone. If you see the other person as a project, you cannot empathize well.

The best way to increase your ability to empathize with someone is to spend time meditating on God’s word. Meditation has been proven to increase your ability to focus and pay attention. So if you lack the ability to focus or pay attention, then extended times of meditation on God’s word could help you break through some big walls in your life.

To check your empathy Quotient click here

Lesson Learned

I learned a lesson again the other day. I was feeling tired and down, my wife calls it being in a funk. Whatever it was I did not have my normal energy and drive. I was working out consistently and doing a lot of projects around the house, so I was physically worn down a little. But I was also low emotionally. I did not want to be around people and just wanted to be by myself. The part that I learned was on the spiritual side.

You see I had allowed myself to drift spiritually. I had not been praying as much and had not spent time alone with God getting recharged and refocused. I was trying to do everything on my own and I was worn out.

Well Friday came along and I had a couple of hospital visits to make. Part of my job as a pastor is to call on people that are in the hospital. I have others that help with this, but they were not available, so I had to go do it. So after I lunch I headed up to Canton. I did not know either of these folks, but they came to our church and had family that attended as well. So I start to pray as I drove up to Canton. As I prayed I felt myself getting stronger emotionally and spiritually and I actually got some new energy. I was not all the way back and was hoping this would be a quick trip though.

The first stop was to a lady that was waiting for heart surgery. She was by herself in the room and I was able to talk with her, pray with her and serve her communion. I could tell that she was so glad that I came. She could not hear very good, but her eyes told me how much it meant to her. She thanked me several times.

Next stop was another hospital and a guy that just had five bypasses on his heart. When I finally found his room he was sitting in a chair with his wife across the room. I spoke with him and heard how things had gone and how he was doing. I prayed for him and told him the best gift he can give his family is to know for sure where he will spend eternity. I encouraged them to come to Church when he was feeling better and they said they would. I could tell they both were so appreciative of the time I spent with them.

Then as I was leaving something strange happened. A lady was walking down the same hallway as I was and started talking to me. She was not sure how to get out of the hospital, so I told I was leaving and she could walk with me. As we got to the elevator she started telling me about her husband and how he had just had emergency surgery and it was worse than the thought. She was obviously under a lot of stress and as I listened to her I knew I was supposed to pray for her.

When we got outside she said I hope your situation is better than mine. I said I was just visiting someone from my church. She looked at me and asked if I would pray for her. I told her I would love to and we stood outside the hospital and prayed. I tried to encourage her as we walked to our cars and when I got in my car, I realized that is why I was supposed to do those visitations. God needed someone to encourage and pray for that woman and I was available.

So here is the lesson that I learned. Usually when we start to feel down and out and lose energy we assume it’s just a physical or emotional issue. I think it is only partly that. I think it is a spiritual issue. I believe we have an enemy that is trying to kill and destroy people. That funk I was in was partly a spiritual battle and I could have easily lost an opportunity to minister to some people in need. The next time you are feeling down, start praying and asking God for direction on how you can minister to someone in need. When you do that, it will bring great energy and fulfillment. Going and serving and helping people in need can help bring you back up.

When we start to fade away from God we can quickly lose focus and purpose. We start to do things in our own strength and get into all kinds of stress. When we plug into His power and strength we can do much more. Be encouraged, God loves us and wants to use us as His instruments in loving other people.

Your Calling

Last week I made the comment that “Your calling is often connected to what troubles you deeply and how you have been hurt in the past.” Here is what I mean by that.

In the book of Nehemiah, in the first chapter it talks about Nehemiah asking about how the Jews that had returned to rebuild Jerusalem were doing. When they reported that things were not going well and that it looked like the city was not making any progress, this was his response: “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God-of-heaven.”

For William Wilberforce it was slavery. He devoted most of his life to seeing it ended in England. For Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, it was the injustice that oppressed and persecuted African-Americans.

If you want to discover your calling, start praying about what troubles you deeply. What do you cry about? What makes your heart break? If it is helping the poor, then spend some time around those in poverty. If it is helping single moms, then start meeting with some single moms. If it is divorce, then get involved with some people that have been hurt through divorce. Allow your heart to be moved and shaped into action.

Larry Crabb said this – “The core problem is not that we are too passionate about bad things, but that we are not passionate enough about good things.”

Nehemiah was passionate about the persecution of his Jewish brothers and had a vision for rebuilding a city. When God gives you a burden, it is usually an indication this could be your calling. If you have a burden for something, do what Nehemiah did. First he fasted and prayed and wept. He spent time with God, but he also dove into it. He put together plans, checklist and material that it would take to accomplish the goal of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He prepared himself so that when an opportunity came along to make a difference he was ready.

As you pray about what is troubling to you start to research how you can get involved. Talk to others that have a similar burden. Check out organizations that are working on whatever issue you are drawn to. For example it may be human trafficking that has been troubling you. There are some great organizations that are passionate about this cause. Go to their website, send some emails, make some phone calls. Start praying for those organizations. Here is one you can check out International Justice Mission

Maybe you don’t have a burden. That’s OK, I am sure you have some hurts from your past. Another way you can discover your calling is to examine where you have been. I believe there is purpose in your past. Soren Kierkegaard said “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” When your pain threshold was tested and your endurance was stretched to the breaking point, that is where God works to bring good. Things like Divorce, abuse, death, alcoholism, cancer, depression, job loss, bankruptcy, eating disorders, miscarriages, abortion, affairs, marriage struggles all bring great pain and great opportunity. The great opportunity is that these things can bring about great change in us if we work with God to heal and become healthy. Once we are on our way to recovery, we can then begin to help others that are not as far along as we are.

The great ministry opportunity comes because now you understand the pain someone else is going through. You can listen with empathy and know what is helpful and what is not helpful. You know how to pray for that person, encourage that person and come alongside them through their dark time.

Max Lucado said this “God sees our life from beginning to end. He may lead us through a storm at age thirty so we can endure a hurricane at age sixty. An instrument is useful only if it’s in the right shape. A dull ax or a bent screwdriver needs attention, and so do we. A good blacksmith keeps his tools in shape. So does God.” We are God’s instruments, his desire is for us to be in good enough shape to help someone else that is bent or broken. He does the work, but he uses us as his instruments.

So to find your calling look to what troubles you deeply or how you have been hurt in the past. Start by praying, fasting, and planning. Taking action is the key, when God opens the door we need the courage to take a step of faith, to take a risk and pursue your calling.

The reason you and I exist is to first have a relationship with God and then to make a difference in other peoples lives. To do that we first must work on ourselves and get as healthy as we can. But don’t wait until you “have it all together” or you will never actually do anything meaningful. God is calling you to himself and to a ministry.

On Mission

Proverbs 22:9 says “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.”

Serving & helping others helps us to grow spiritually, improves our relationships and blesses us. If that is true, why don’t we serve others more often? Why aren’t we more generous with our time & resources?

Several years ago I went on a mission trip to Biloxi MS shortly after hurricane Katrina hit. I was with a team of 40 people that worked together for a week to help everyone we could. My main job was to find work for our volunteers to do. I would walk from home to home asking how we could help. I got leads from the local church we were staying at as well. We worked hard everyday until it was too dark to work. Some groups worked into the night. WE got up early ready to make a difference; we cleaned up yards, cut up trees, built fences, repaired walls, floors, roofs, doors and even put up a mailbox. We touched many lives that week, we grew in our faith, developed new relationships and strengthened existing ones. We were exhausted, but we all felt blessed more than we could express. Since then I have gone back several times and even gone to the Middle East on mission trips.

On my way back home from that trip I kept thinking; why do we need to go on a mission trip to help and serve people. What would happen if we took that mentality of helping and serving people in need home with us? Could we take the same attitude of serving we had on that trip and apply it in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities we live in?

Most of us don’t serve others as often as we would like to because we are too busy. We miss opportunities because we are so caught up in our daily schedules and habits. When we stop long enough to go on a mission trip our focus changes. We take our eyes of ourselves and our comfort and put it on other people that are hurting and in need of help. We feel amazing, useful, we feel like our life has meaning & purpose.

What if every day could be like that? What if we all would approach this next week like we were on a mission trip? A trip that would take you to your workplace, your family and friends, your neighborhood, your grocery store, your bank, your church, your small group.

How could you serve the people you come into contact with this week? Maybe it’s just a smile and taking the time to listen to someone. It could be doing a random act of kindness like paying for someone’s meal. Maybe it’s playing longer with your kids or doing the dishes every night. Maybe it’s volunteering at your church. Get creative, look for opportunities to serve people and watch your attitude change. I promise you that the more you serve and volunteer the more you will grow spiritually, the better your relationships will get and the more you will feel blessed.

Serve On!

True Compassion

Compassion has a way of turning peoples heads. The level of compassion to help the people of Haiti has been amazing. In times of crisis most people are willing to step up and try to help make a difference. The efforts in Haiti have been amazing as we continue to hear stories of people giving their time, talents and treasure to help. I am sure we will hear some truly amazing stories in the months ahead.

Jesus said this about the church, “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Jesus was saying that there is one force in this world that can shed life giving light on a dark and hurting world. Who was in Haiti before this tragedy? Many churches and Christian organizations were there trying to make a difference in peoples lives. The church is made up of people that are called by Jesus to love other people. That love for people is the motivator for churches to reach out and help people. That is why there were people on the ground with the people of Haiti trying to encourage and equip them.

So here is the question, how bright is your light shining. Is your bulb wattage at 25? 40? 60? or 150?

Showing compassion to the world is what we were called to do. We are not called to judge this world, but to love those in this world just like Jesus did. When we show unconditional love to a broken world it gets people’s attention. True compassion is unusual. Acts of compassion are not just giving money, although money is often needed. Compassion is helping people in need through relief, rehabilitation and development. If we never get to developing people, we are not showing true compassion. Relief is often the first step, but the real compassion comes in rehabilitation and development. That takes time and energy to help people become what God intended them to be.

Here are three reasons we should get involved personally in acts of compassion.

  1. When you let your light shine it will change you. True compassion changes you from the inside out.
  2. You change the world one person at a time. Every person matters to God.
  3. It does something to the heart of God, It blesses God when we show true compassion.

Being compassionate requires action. If you just think about helping, cry about a tragedy or talk about how awful something is, you are not compassionate. Compassion happens when something is done to help another person in need. When you do that little extra to show love and respect for a less fortunate person. I hope that everyone that reads this Blog post will pray for God to give them an opportunity to show compassion in a real way this week.