From the time Jesus entered his creation with fresh baby skin to the time it was torn on the cross, Jesus embodied empathy. His choice to pierce the cosmos to become Immanuel, God with us, demonstrated the most extreme act of empathy we will ever know. We did not love him first, but he loved us. By imitating him, we cut through the noise of this world to reach our friends in the wells of their suffering or joy. We become a friend with them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
bear with me
empathy requires presence
Instead of rushing to raise his friend Lazarus from the dead, Jesus first stood outside the tomb with his loved ones and wept. Instead of condescending to the woman at the well, Jesus met her in her pain. Instead of ignoring a man born blind, Jesus stooped to mix a balm of mud in his hands to heal his sight. Instead of dispersing the crowds who had gathered to hear him speak, Jesus not only fed their souls but also their bellies with fish and bread. Instead of leaving this earth without a trace, Jesus appeared to his disciples, understood Thomas’s doubt, recommissioned Peter4, and left the indwelling presence of his spirit. Empathy, then, is both visceral and missional. It carries both qualities in its arms; it feels the weight of the burden others carry and it does the heavy work of reaching out.
empathy requires patience and perseverance
For us to slip into the emotions and experiences of our friends as we would a thick coat, we need patience and perseverance. Sympathy sprints; empathy endures. Scripture repeatedly commands us to bear with one another. “‘Bearing with’ one another (anechomenoi) means putting up with others and enduring discomfort.” Indeed, Jesus modeled empathy by hanging on a cross while people jeered at his agony. His kind of empathy shook the gates of hell for all eternity.
Just as athletes condition themselves for endurance events, empathy is a muscle we can develop through small efforts every day: We can ask questions of our friends rather than rushing to judgement; examine our own emotions so that we can identify with theirs; and ask God to help us remain present in today instead of wishing for tomorrow. Through these exercises, we can grow our empathy so that we can have the strength to carry our friends’ burdens. To feel the weight of our friends’ humanity is to slip our head under their heavy bar, and together, lift.
Watch Session Three
The Profile of a Friend
In what ways does Jesus’ empathy motivate you to empathize with your friends? In your own life, what are concrete ways you have experienced the empathy of a friend, and how did it impact your friendship?
Empathy is such a powerful emotion and one’s ability to empathize is extremely powerful for a friendship. Jesus’ empathy is motivating because it makes me realize that even in the hardest situations, you can still have so much room in your heart to feel for others. In fact when we open up to others like this and allow ourselves to empathize with them, then to help them, we are also helping ourselves and therefore growing the entire relationship. You can really tell when a person cares for you when they show true empathy. You can see it in their eyes, feel it in their touch and in your heart. Their actions also tell you this. Empathy has helped me be a great friend to others as I have been able to truly put myself in their shoes and see through their eyes and feel their pain. That helps me to be there in the right ways, ask the uncomfortable questions, send the right messages, check in at the right times, and provide the proper love and emotion for this person. Also, it allows me to get happy and excited for my friend when they are having good times in their life (even if I’m in a not so good place). The impact on my friendships because of empathy is amazing. It deepens the connection and love between the two of you and strengthens the bond and creates a even more unique relationship that lasts.
I can do better with empathy by getting closer to a situation with my brother and his loved one. I do feel for them so much but it hurts so much seeing them hurt that I think sometimes I close myself off to it because its so painful. I know this sounds awful and I don’t mean to be doing it. It is a work in progress. I am trying so hard to be there for them in the right ways, but it so sad and uncomfortable for everyone. Its tough sometimes to figure out exactly what they need right now as well because they often don’t open up completely and tell the whole story. I actually have an easier time being empathetic toward my brother and he isn’t even the sick one (his gf is). I can related to him more and feel for him more because I know him more and connect with him more. I don’t always get the full story on what is going on and so the little I get is often from my brother and I think that is why it is so hard to be there for the both of them in the way that I would want. Also, the situation is so new and crazy…its hard for me to even fathom what exactly they are going through so it makes it hard to completely empathize I would imagine. I pray for more understanding and I pray for help.
Jesus is the ultimate example of relationship and sacrifice. Having empathy to the degree he did was sacrificial and challenging, although to him it was flawless. As humans, our instinct is to protect ourselves. Looking to Jesus as our prime example on empathy in friendships, we can see servanthood by first seeing what others need, and therefore entering into how they are feeling in that moment. Then supporting them in that feeling and figuring out how to help if needed and warranted.
I have experienced empathy from friends through shared experiences, texts to see how I am, a quick conversation in person and seeing their faces change with emotion. One friend comes to mind, as that is her gift among others. She aches with empathy sometimes and feels so deeply what other do, whether sadness or joy! She has always been that person for me, and sometimes it comes out through the strength of her hugs especially. And this she is one who I know if am struggling or if I have something super exciting to share, she will enter into that with me and it makes my experience that much more special or real. She definitely challenges me to do the same with others, as that is something I do struggle with. It’s definitely a practice!
In Jesus showing empathy it lets me know it is the right thing to do because we long to be more like Jesus. Friends who take the time to listen. Ones that give advice that follows God’s word. These things made my friendships stronger and made me lean into these friends more.
Sign up for IF:Equip
Get the Daily Devotionals Emailed to You