I’ve never known what it feels like to go hungry. Sure, my stomach has groaned, and I’ve used the phrase “I’m starving!” But I have always been able to satisfy this need, even if it’s by running into a gas station for an overpriced granola bar.
It would be awful to be hungry (I mean truly hungry), and I feel bad for the countless starving people on this planet. But do I have empathy for hungry people?
Empathy is arguably one of the most advanced of all communication skills. The definition of empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Putting ourselves in someone else’s place can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. Sometimes others’ circumstances are so foreign to us we often cannot fathom what they are going through.
Can you imagine what it is like to be truly hungry? Can you imagine what it would be like to feel unsafe in your home, or to be forced from your home and have to look for a safe place to start again?
While in Uganda with my family, we met a lady named Joyce that was truly hungry and in search of a new home. Her current home was smaller than the car we drive. Her home was a clay/dirt hut and had holes in the roof, and she told us that her neighbors would often take advantage of her.
A few hours after visiting with Joyce, one of my children taught me a lesson on empathy. One of my boys came up to me, and with tears in his eyes asked, “Dad, can we please buy Joyce a new home? I’m willing to give my allowance to help.” How can a dad say no to that request?
The Apostle Paul says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) Paul is trying to teach us about empathy. As Jesus followers, we are being taught to share our neighbors’ emotional experiences. I am drawn to the action words of Paul’s statement: It doesn’t say to “feel bad for those who are mourning.” It says to literally cry with them. To have the same emotion they are having — with a passion — one that brings forth tears.
We are all called to show grace and love to hurting people, even when we can only guess at how they feel, yet the true depth of empathy is achieved through sharing the emotion with action.
Jesus is the ultimate example of empathy. He literally put Himself in our place when He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. His empathy led Him to action.
Jesus told us the greatest commandments are to love our Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul, and to love others as ourselves. In a culture rampant with selfishness and greed, Jesus offers a better way. We are, after all, His hands and feet, and what better way to represent Jesus and love others than with the gift of empathy? What can you do today to empathize with someone?
To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. (1 Peter 2:21)