Empathy Makes Good Neighbors

My wife is amazing! Not only is she beautiful and talented and fun and a great teacher, but God has used her to help me be a better man and a better pastor. When we were first married, we moved into a little apartment in a huge apartment complex. We were so young and so into setting up our home and experiencing married life. We both were also super busy. Kristi was in her first year of teaching and I was finishing college with a load of 22 units, working at a pool supply store, and interning at our church. Needless to say, we did not have a whole lot of time to do much of anything, but we managed. Yet one, not-so-exemplary byproduct of my busyness, and my youth, was I spent a great deal of my time focused on myself. Some was out of insecurity, but much of it was well intended: I wanted to be a good husband, I wanted to do well in school, I wanted to learn and do well as an intern, but there was too much emphasis in “I,” on me. I spent way too much time thinking about me, and not a whole lot of time thinking about others, how they felt, or what they were going through. Sad to say, I was not very compassionate or empathetic. There were even times I was insensitive and did not want to be bothered by other people’s problems. I know, not very becoming of a pastor-in-training, but God did yank me out of that through watching and learning from my incredible wife.

Next door to us lived Rhoda and Ralph (not their real names). We would hear Rhoda crying through the walls and in frustration yelling at Ralph. I was annoyed. Kristi was concerned and prayed for them. One day, Kristi told me Ralph was out wandering the complex all dressed up, but forgot his pants! He asked Kristi if she could help him find his apartment. Kristi in her sweet kindness said, “Oh yes Ralph (we knew his name because his wife’s yelling), you live next door to us, come with me.” Rhoda came to the door very apologetic and quickly shared that Ralph was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was sorry we were inconvenienced. Just as Rhoda was about to close the door, Kristi introduced herself and expressed how difficult this must be. Rhoda began share her frustration and cried, so did Kristi. Rhoda apologized about her yelling and started to share how much she loved Ralph, but this was so hard. We began to look out more for Ralph, but one incident threw my underdeveloped empathy in my face and moved me on to be more compassionate.

Ralph was out again, and again without his pants. The streets in our complex were being resurfaced and Ralph was walking down street making footprints in the still-wet slurry. The workers were yelling at him, calling him names, throwing things at him. Ralph got even more confused and walked ever deeper into the middle of the street. Finally Ralph made it home, you could see his tar footprints on the grass and sidewalk as they led to his door. What hit me was these workers had no idea what Ralph was dealing with, nor did they care, nor did they want to know. So wrapped up in their job and themselves, they had nothing but disdain. The reality was, I was just like those workers. I asked God to help me be more empathetic, more like Kristi, more like Jesus.

The Bible is very clear.
Galatians 6:2-3 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
Romans 15:1-2 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
Philippians 2:3-4 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.
Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.
Jesus said it this way in Matthew 22:39 “…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Extending a bit of empathy goes a long way; it pulls others out of isolation, it relieves tension and stress, it brings comfort, it soothes the turbulent, unsettled, deep waters, deep feelings of our souls… empathy really helps. Not only all this, empathy helps us be the kind of people God created us to be and pulls us out of the self-focused, ‘me-centered,’ immature people we can be. So why not extend some empathy to those around you, even today. Will you?

Church can be a wonderful place to learn how to love and be empathetic like Jesus. If you are not already connected to a church, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or one of our branch churches in either Los Alamitos or Garden Grove as we are in the beginnings of a new teaching series called, “There’s Room: Life in God’s Family.” We are learning from the Bible book of Ephesians talking about the inclusive, loving, caring reality of God’s family. Our website has all the information you would need. www.cypresschurch.net . It would be great to have you join us.

Seeking to continue to be more empathetic alongside you,

Mike

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