With Deepest Empathy

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.

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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.

  1. “God sees you.”
  2.  “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.

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2 thoughts on “With Deepest Empathy

  1. Today my calendar’s thought of the day is by Benjamin Franklin: “Well done is better than well said.” Sometimes it’s the being there that is more important than what is said. Wise words are not always needed; someone to be a friend, or to vent to, may be more important just then.

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