I have never been a “feeler”. You know those people who can listen to anyone tell a story and no matter how good of a story teller that person is, they can literally feel what the other person is feeling or may have felt? “Uber-empathizers.” I have always been amazed by people with the gift of empathy and wondered how in the world they could feel a person’s joy, pain, sorrow, or frustration without ever of having a similar experience themselves.
Romans 12:15 says,
“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”
I have been praying for this gift for awhile now. Often times I’ve felt guilt because I cannot make myself feel the slightest of what another person is feeling, unless I have a similar experience of which I can relate. Especially as I have spent time here in the Horn with women who have endured such hardships, abandonment, and utter poverty. I hear several difficult stories a day, and although I feel sympathy for these women and children, I cannot empathize. So many times I have been frustrated by myself and feel like a horrible, hard-hearted, desensitized person with walls all around me.
I am not sure what the change, maybe it has something to do with our adoption and the difficult conversations we’ve had to their birth mother and best friends in the transition home, but this week I have felt the pain of these women as they tell me their stories. My heart is heavy this week. My eyes are tired from tears. But I have a deeper love and appreciation for the people of the Horn than I did last week even. Somehow, by divine power, I understand their struggles and pain. Although I am by no means from a “wealthy” family, we never struggled. I have never had to work hard labor and have always had the support of my family and good friends to trust and confide in. How is it then, that I can feel what these women from stark different backgrounds are feeling?
The other day, the hospital rang Grace Centre and asked if we could look after a 14 year old boy who came from the countryside. As I sat with our social worker to interview him, we learned that he had been in the hospital, by himself, for a month. He had previously lived with his grandmother in the countryside who sent him to the city for medical treatment. Both of his parents had died and he has no brothers or sisters. Since be admitted to the hospital, his grandmother has gone to live at the church, which has left him homeless. This bright young boy has passed 8th grade (which is a BIG deal here) but he had left his school certificates with his grandmother and cannot enroll in school here in the city without them. The only option was for him to make the 8 hour trek by leg to the countryside, get his certificate, and return the 8 hours. After calling up his doctor to make sure he was strong enough for the trip, we gave him enough money for food and transport (when available) and sent him on his way. Fourteen years old, but like an adult. He seemed so strong and unfazed by the events of his life. I cried. I couldn’t imagine being 14 and completely on my own. I have a niece who is nearly 14 and a nephew not far behind her. I kept thinking, “what if this were them?” I felt myself starting to question God and becoming resentful.
Our social worker and sister in Chr*st noticed the tears in my eyes and knew it wasn’t like me. I have a hard time allowing others to serve me, let alone minister to me, but I allowed her to speak and soaked in her words. She said that there are many many hard stories. We must be strong so that we can serve others better. We must see the hope in situations rather than focusing on the disparity (ironically, I had been saying the same thing to her weeks earlier as she had struggled with hearing anymore difficult stories).
Was it possible to empathize with difficult situations, and focus on the hopeful rays of light at the same time? I had never really thought about it, but what I realized is that I had been assuming that in order to truly serve these women, I must be able to feel what they feel. But I had forgotten that while it is important to empathize, I must also be able to speak words of hope, and BELIEVE those words to be true for these women. I must set my eyes on the one true God who can make all things new and heal all suffering. I need to be able to feel their suffering and weep with them, while being strong enough to set my mind on things of the Sp*rit in order to speak hope into their lives. It’s a “both/and” equation.
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Sp*rit set their minds on the things of the Sp*rit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Sp*rit is life and peace”.
To set our minds only on a feeling, is to set our mind only on the flesh and worldly circumstances. But we must set our minds on things of the Sp*rit, being heart broken by the spiritual state of darkness that so many people live in, and being comforted by the hope that we are promised through the *Son.
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Sp*rit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.“