What do my 9-year old, one of my 13-year old twins, and this 44-year old father have in common?
My 13-year old got them about 15 months ago and my 9-year old got them a month ago. I got mine within the last 10 days.
To my shame I never asked my boys any questions about their braces. I didn’t ask them if they had any pain. I didn’t ask them what they could and couldn’t eat. And I never asked them why they had little, colored bands around each bracket. I never asked Duncan why he has to wear rubber bands across his mouth.
I didn’t ask because I’m selfish and I didn’t really care. In part, even though I knew they had them, I was unaware or clueless of how big an impact braces can have on an individual.
But now that I have braces of my own, I ask and I care. It took me walking in their shoes (putting in their teeth?) before I really cared, asked, or noticed. I now ask questions because I have empathy for them.
What is empathy? We all know the word but what does it really mean?
Empathy can be defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It means we feel with others—we can understand their joys and their pains. It means we see things from the perspective of the other person and think beyond ourselves.
Why is empathy beneficial?
- Allows us to live with our spouse in an understanding way (see 1 Peter 3:7).
- Helps us to not exasperate our children since we better understand their world (Ephesians 6:4, Colossians 3:21).
- Gives us the ability to bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).
Of course no one better exemplifies empathy than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
- In Luke 5:12-13 we see Jesus touch and heal a man with leprosy. No one would walk near, let alone touch, someone with leprosy. Yet Jesus touched the one who was untouchable and empathized with him in his disease.
- We can cast all our anxieties on God because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
- In Matthew 9:36 we see Jesus had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd. He knows the condition of the “flock” and cares and empathizes with his people.
As I see the perfect example in the Lord and see how I fall short, I realize the importance of empathizing with my wife, kids, friends, co-workers, those I lead, and much more. I never would have guessed getting braces would help me become a better spouse, dad, pastor, and friend.
This past week I had the privilege of asking some single friends about the highs and lows in their lives as single adults. My empathy for them increased as I listened to them share about what they love about life and what’s really tough. Our conversation allowed me to better know and understand them. When we empathize with others we grow in our understanding of them and can better lead, love, care for, and pray for them.
We have a unique opportunity as followers of Christ to care for both believers and non-believers. Let’s not waste the opportunity we have to love and care for others by growing in empathy.
In Part 2 of this series on empathy, I’ll share some practical ways we can grow in empathy for others.
Any other adult braces wearers out there?
What’s an area of life where you can grow in empathy for your spouse, kids, friends, neighbors, or co-workers?