Day Two: In someone else’s shoes

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Empathy requires that we step outside ourselves. Empathy requires a level of selflessness that may be a hard reach for some. Once again, Jesus would be our example, who gave up His right to be God in order to be a human being. Jesus was in our shoes the whole time because He shed His God-shoes when He was born in Bethlehem (Philippians 2:5-8).

I can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes if I still have my own shoes on. I can’t put a shoe inside a shoe. If I could I’d be defeating my purpose. I would still be in my own shoes. I have to first take off my own shoes to get into someone else’s, and that is tantamount to getting outside of myself. Getting beyond my own self-importance. Making it more important to understand than to be understood.

This is a big step and hard to accomplish when I’ve been spending my whole life wrapped around myself. This means I’m going to have to get away from my favorite topic — me — and on to someone else. Like that great Bette Midler line from the movie, Beaches, “Enough of me, what do you think of me?” Or the story about a friend of ours who was at his wife’s side while she was in labor, and at one point she said that she was cold, to which he replied, “Really? I’m not cold.” This would be a pretty clear example of a failure to have empathy. 

These steps are pretty much common sense, but easily overlooked. I’ve tried having empathy when my mind is full of its own thoughts, points of view and rationalizations. Can’t do it. My own shoes are still on. Getting into someone else’s shoes involves a good deal of listening and paying attention. I’m not going to have empathy for someone if I don’t understand their situation.

There is an article in the paper this morning about a conflict in a local Christian college over their treatment of LGBTQ students when a ban was lifted on same-sex relationships and later reinstated due to pressure from administration and donors. Now if we were going to empathize with the students who feel like something was given and later taken away, we would need to hear them out. Get inside their shoes and see the world from their perspective. We would need to pay attention to them, not as a group, but as individuals and fellow Christians. And if we were going to empathize with the administration that made the decision, we would have to do the same thing. Get to know a few as individuals and fellow Christians and find out why they felt like they had to do what they did. We may not agree with the students or the administration, but we will understand them better. We will know why they feel what they’re feeling. We will probably have some compassion for both sides, and though there may not be a simple solution to the conflict, there will be a better chance of living together with the conflict if there is empathy.

I am one with my wife. If there is anyone I should have empathy for, it would be her. Am I seeking to understand her? After all these years, do I? Am I standing inside her shoes? Have her concerns become my concerns, even if they are things that don’t naturally concern me? Do I feel her pain? Am I doing whatever I can to alleviate it? Am I bringing her joy, because I know by now what does? Am I making sure she stays warm, even if I’m not cold?

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.  Romans 12:15-16

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11 Responses to Day Two: In someone else’s shoes

  1. Andrew P. says:

    I think your allusion to the Azusa Pacific matter brings up a real conundrum: how does one show empathy toward someone who (from your perspective, obviously) needs to repent, but sees nothing to repent of? Let’s take a softball example: how do you show empathy with a serial rapist who sees nothing wrong with his behavior? It makes me wonder if there might be situations where empathy is, in fact, impossible. At the least, it will have to express itself in a manner that’s very different from how one would express empathy with a victim of clinical depression (for example). Personalize it: how would I want someone to deal with ME when that individual believes I need to repent of something I don’t believe is wrong? Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I don’t think that’s an easy question to answer. Yet, surely we should WRESTLE with it, because otherwise all we can do is (a) capitulate to their point of view, or (b) cast them out (so to speak). I’m doubtful that either of those approaches is actually empathy. (And if you can’t tell, I’m working on working this out, even as I type.)

    • jwfisch says:

      I think empathy plays into all situations, even that of the killer. Empathy might lead to the saving of the man’s soul. Empathy doesn’t mean you agree with someone or that they are right. It has to do with understanding how they feel. It’s not a justification for anything.

  2. Mark D Seguin says:

    Great verse 4 today’s Catch: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” Romans 12:15-16

  3. Camille says:

    And this, empathy, is what is missing in so much of our society today. “I got mine so who cares if you got yours?” I first saw this with the discussion about immigration and refugees. It amazes me that so many Americans could be so hard-hearted against people suffering in war-torn countries like Syria. So that’s the macro level.
    Within the church, Jesus=love=empathy, the way I see it. As Christians we should be working to alleviate whatever conditions that lead to crime (such as poverty.) This is true In society, in schools, work places, homes and with our friends and acquaintances. As for criminals, it is not our job to judge. We have the courts for that. I believe that no soul is beyond redemption. Why else would Jesus tell us to visit those in prison? He didn’t say, “lock them up and throw away the key.” If we seek to understand why someone does evil, maybe we can prevent someone else from perpetuating the same evil.

    • …as they did not see fit to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a depraved mind, to do things not being proper; being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness; gossips, slanderers, hateful to God, insolent, arrogant, boastful; inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents; foolish, untrustworthy, heartless, unmerciful; who having known the righteous judgment of God, that those doing such things are worthy of death, not only are practicing them, but are also approving of those practicing them.
      ~ Romans 1:28-32

      But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will be present.
      [People] will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boasters, proud, verbally abusive, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, savage, haters of good, betrayers, reckless, puffed up, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power…

      …out of this sort are those entering into households and taking captive [those who are] weak, burdened with sins, being led away by various passions, always learning and never being able to come to a knowledge of the truth.

      …evil men and imposters will [proceed to become] worse, deceiving and being deceived.

      But you, abide in the things you have learned and have been assured of…

      Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be complete, having been fully equipped toward every good work.
      ~ 2 Timothy 3

      WDJWTDTU?

    • jwfisch says:

      Yes, and maybe we will more readily spot the evil in our own lives. Preach it, Camille!

  4. Sandie says:

    I’m a day late coming into this discussion…but here it goes: I think empathy starts with respect. God says He “is no respecter of persons,” yet He has the utmost respect for all persons. First there has to be self-respect (not pride), for you cannot give away what you have not received. Next comes the respect we are expected by God to extend to everyone else…no exceptions. Why? Because we are ALL created in the image of God; no matter our circumstance, our beliefs, our sin. As was said, it doesn’t mean you condone or abet sin in another person or in a situation. It means you see through Jesus’ eyes, hear with His ears, feel with His heart…and see the unique individual He created. You allow The Spirit to give you words and actions to express yourself in a way that does not rob those involved of the dignity of being dearly loved by God.
    As I used to tell my teen youth group – “You have to cut everyone else the same break (the same consideration, the same forgiveness) that God extended to you. No exceptions, No excuses, No rationalizations.
    As Jesus said, “Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
    I need to drop my stone; better yet…I need to stop picking them up in the first place.

  5. Kevin says:

    “Making it more important to understand than to be understood.” Thank you for that encouragement. I could have prevented many conversations from becoming heated arguments if I had that perspective.

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