One of the main roles of working in campus ministry is being a listener.
When a student chooses to share a piece of their story with me – a deep hurt or current chaos – I feel both incredibly honored and wildly deficient.
Brené Brown explains empathy well in this video. It’s messier than pitying from a distance; it requires involvement, presence, with-ness. “Me too” – the ability to connect over a feeling or experience – is a powerful thing we can offer, even when we don’t have answers or resolutions to pain.
But here’s what I wrestle with. Sometimes – many times – I can’t honestly say “me too.” I feel like I can’t actually relate to that thing. Abuse is far from me; I’m not burdened by addiction or discontentment with singleness.
And I’m tempted to think, “Well, I’m certainly not very useful here,” and write myself off because (in all truth, praise God), I have not experienced everything I hear. I can zoom out to the larger reality and relate to broken relationships, desiring control or lacking passion for scripture. But to sit with someone in a specific trial, what does that require? A relatable answer? A prayer? Redirecting them to someone obviously more equipped than me?
I’m discovering, slowly and with a constant pushing away of negative and un-affirming thoughts, that two other phrases (articulated and practiced) can be just as healing.
- “God sees you.”
- “I’m here.”
Because He does. He sees and knows and loves you.
And I am. I’m here if you need to vent, need a meal, need to know you’re not alone.
Of course, there are healthy limits and boundaries; we can’t be anyone’s superwoman or savior. But maybe that’s exactly what frees us to move towards people, anyway, with seemingly little to offer.
Empathy begs to extend beyond “me too.” I feel like I’m just beginning to test the waters.