Day 19 – Comfort with Empathy

COMFORT WITH EMPATHY: Hold space for others with open hearts. Rather than offering pity or sympathy, show up and tune in—bless, encourage, and build up.

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:11)

One of the most powerful tools of a discipleship band is empathy. Jesus himself demonstrated the highest degree of empathy possible when he stepped down from heaven and showed up “with us” in human form. God was not content to love us from a distance. Instead he became Emmanuel, which literally means “God with us.” We sometimes use the word incarnational to describe ministry that embodies the love of Jesus showing up “with” people. This is the kind of empathy to which we aspire in discipleship bands—Christ in us, while we make ourselves present with others.

So much can be learned from Brené Brown, a popular author and speaker, about empathy. One of the ways Brené teaches on empathy is to make a distinction between empathy and sympathy. Empathy often fuels connection, while sympathy can drive disconnection. Sympathy is not necessarily bad or poorly motivated, but we can tend to use sympathy as a way to keep distance. Empathy, on the other hand, takes more vulnerability. Empathy, in this context, can be understood as feeling with someone, whereas sympathy can lead to feeling sorrow or pity for someone. Empathy is me coming beside you, while sympathy can sometimes make me feel that I am above you.

Empathy is the more difficult of the two, because having empathy means connecting with something within yourself that knows what the other person is feeling. Instead of sharing your particular story or experience, simply connect on the level of emotion. You might simply say: “I know what it is like to go through that and you are not alone.” Or, “That is so hard, and I am with you.”

Brené Brown says, “Rarely can a response make something better, what makes something better is connection.” So in moments where someone is experiencing struggle, heartache, stress, or disappointment, keep your responses limited, but listen well and offer the gift of your presence.

The Prayer

God, your Word says that Christ lives in me and this gives me assurance that I share in your glory (see Colossians 1:27). I pray that I could embody the presence of Jesus with and for people around me this week, especially to those in my band. Amen.

For Band Interaction

What is the most challenging aspect of empathy for you?