It seems this season there have been a lot of things that have caused people disappointment and stress.

  • missed graduations
  • cancelled holidays
  • re-imagined wedding plans
  • lonely hospital trips
  • modified birth plans
  • lay-offs
  • unexpected job terminations
  • disrupted placements
  • interrupted connections

All these things have resulted in grieving and pain for many. I have listened to the stories and shared in the sorrow and pain of others. How do we do this well?

I really like how Brené Brown explains it in this clip.

Empathy. It is right and good to listen without judgement and share in the pain and disappointment of someone. We are meant to share in the struggles of others. It eases the burden for everyone. But too often we carry away and accumulate other people’s sorrow or offenses. Taking on someone else’s offense can become toxic to you. You do not have broad enough shoulders or a big enough heart to carry it all. You weren’t designed for it.

I see this most often in families. A wife carries the offense that was committed against her husband even after he has resolved it. A parent carries an offense committed against their child long after the child has moved on. Grown children carry resentment for perceived injustices against their parents.

I feel it as we hear about a disrupted placement for a little guy we have had in our home for respite. He is moving to a new foster home next week and my heart hurts for him. I want to be indignant on his behalf. I want to judge the other mother who isn’t able to continue loving this little guy well. I can not.

Often we refuse to let others move on by resurrecting the pain and offense for them. It’s not helpful.

What do we do with these feelings after the opportunity to empathize is passed? How do we learn to let go? Where do we put them so they don’t grow and fester in us? For me that answer is found in giving them to Jesus.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.

Matthew 11:28

The words are simple! The reality of letting go is often hard.

I’ve heard it said that when we hang on to bitterness and offense it is like drinking poison and thinking we are hurting the other person. Even when it wasn’t our offense or pain it still applies. It’s not effective to carry other people’s struggles! You don’t help anyone. I have to bring them to the God I know cares about all people deeply, and choose to leave them with Him. People are responsible for their own hurts and offenses. We can listen, empathize and help them move towards healing and wholeness.

You might write it out in a journal, or vent to someone, or maybe you have found it easy to let things go. Whatever the process, our mental and emotional health is important. We need to deal with our own disappointments well, and look for joy in the everyday things so we are able to empathize with others.

I hope we all choose to continue engaging deeply with those who are struggling through this season. Don’t shy away from the pain others are dealing with. We need each other. But don’t try to carry it all. Find a way to let it go and look for joy daily. This is where the freedom to thrive will be found in this season.

In the midst of the mess


One thought on “Empathy

  1. It’s hard to not want to fix everyone’s problem! But we can learn to listen, hug, and console, and pray, if you are a prayer, then move on yourself. Make yourself keep in track. People like Marny help like they do because they have learned to put these children in their hearts. But stay in tune with their own life. Thanks Marny for having such a heart to help these kids!


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