Walk a Mile in Their Shoes

by Julie Coleman @JulieZColeman 

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NASB

Ironic to the beauty that was characteristic of the Hawaiian Islands, the leper colony Molokai was home to some of the most deplorable and wretched conditions on the earth.  Missionary Father Damien arrived on the scene in 1873 to spread a message of hope and to minister to those who had been sent to the island to die.

He erected a church and worked tirelessly to provide decent shelters and improve the quality of life for the lepers who lived on the peninsula. Those suffering with leprosy politely attended the church services, out of respect for this man who selflessly gave of his life. But in their minds, religion remained something for those who did not suffer from the disease. Damien began every sermon the same way: “My dear lepers . . .”

Years passed. One morning as Damien prepared breakfast, he accidentally spilled boiling water on his foot. There was no pain. Damien realized that the dreaded had happened. He had finally contracted the disease. That Sunday morning, he began his sermon differently: “My fellow lepers . . .”

The news that Damien was now one of them spread like wildfire throughout the leper community. As the curious lepers watched, Damien continued to live out the rest of his life in dedication to the God he trusted. Religious revival swept the colony. God had suddenly become very real to the lepers while displayed in the life of one who suffered as they did.

God can turn our pain into an avenue of His grace and mercy. Knowing they are not alone is a balm to those who suffer.

When painful circumstances strike, our first prayer is for the Lord to take them away. Much of our prayer times sound like a Christmas wish list, as we tell God what to “fix” in order for life to be more comfortable for us. While there is nothing wrong with bringing our concerns before the Lord, we should also be praying about our own response should the Lord choose to allow that circumstance to remain. We need to pray for endurance and grace. Our goal should be that God might be glorified through us and that we would remain faithful to Him through the trial.

“…The God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:4 NIV). One of the reasons God brings painful circumstances along is so we can effectively minister to others. After walking in someone else’s shoes, we can listen and respond with an empathy we could not have had without going through the experience ourselves. Having been there gives credibility to our spiritual counsel.

Knowing this should revolutionize our prayer lives. In the midst of the pain, we should be looking for ways God makes Himself real to us through the struggle. We must ask God to make us sensitive to what He is endeavoring to teach us. Because one day we will be given an opportunity to pass on what we learned in the experience to another who is in the midst of the battle. And they will need what we can give them.

Are you struggling right now? Julie shares what God is revealing to her in her current battle with breast cancer on her blog. Check it out!

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Julie-Coleman-headshot-295x300About the authorJulie Coleman helps others to understand and know an unexpected God. A popular conference and retreat speaker, she holds an M.A. in biblical studies. Julie is the managing editor for Arise Daily. When she is not glaring at her computer, she spends time with her grandchildren, gardening, or walking her neurotic dog. More on Julie can be found at unexpectedgod.com and Facebook.

Does the Bible depict women as second-class citizens of the Kingdom? Jesus didn’t think so. Unexpected Love takes a look at the encounters that Jesus had with women in the gospels. You will fall in love with the dynamic, beautiful, and unexpectedly personal Jesus.

Join the conversation: What has God revealed to you in a struggle that you have been able to use to encourage others?

Exercises in Empathizing

by Kaley Rhea

You’ve probably been here: you’re sharing a personal struggle, trauma, crisis, or triumph with someone, and that person looks at you and responds in that moment by saying the Worst Possible Thing™.

That’s so frustrating! Hurtful! It makes me mad! Like, why would you even say that? Can’t you step outside yourself for two seconds, understand my feelings, and treat me like I’m a valid human being? ::pant pant::

You know what’s even more heartbreaking though? The realization that I can be that person. The insensitive one. The selfish one. The one who doesn’t know what to say and so in her haste to say something hears her own voice release the shameful, dreaded Worst Possible Thing™.

It’s easy to point the finger at someone else’s lack of empathy and overlook my own.

But Jesus says in John 15:12 (ESV), “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

How does Jesus love us? He didn’t stay where He was. He came here. He lived a human life, went through human trials, felt pain and hunger and cold. Probably tasted bad food and got sore feet and splinters and low blood sugar. He put Himself in our place. Literally.

Yet I have occasions where I, in my ignorance and limited perspective, think myself justified in viewing someone else’s struggle/hurt/heartache/victory/passion within my own context and judging, dismissing, or “solving” it.

Or sometimes I’m going about my day so focused on my circumstances/goals/to-do lists/whatevers I forget that the people around me aren’t obstacles to get around. Or tools to use to accomplish my stuff. They’re people. Created by and loved of God. And if I brush off or shut down someone who’s come to share a trial or a triumph, I have at the very least missed out. More probably, I’ve sinned.

Galatians 6:2 (ESV) reads, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

For realsies, too many times, even when I’m listening to a friend or a co-worker or a family member or even a stranger, I listen wrong. I’m less listening and more waiting for my turn to speak. I listen less for understanding their experience and more for making my own experience understood. I listen less to communicate love and more to “fix” them with my—ahem— “brilliant” advice. I listen less for their sake and more for my own.

That isn’t empathizing. That isn’t putting myself in their place, bearing their burden, feeling what they feel.

Good thing there’s Jesus.

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV

Jesus, my sweet Savior, I need Your strength to help me to be tender. Soften my heart and open my ears. Help me to listen and to love unselfishly by Your great grace. Thank You for being the ultimate example of empathy and the perfect, all-knowing Understander. Give me Your ability to delight in the people You’ve made, even when I don’t understand them the way You do. Convict me when I fail to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. My heart is Yours. Make it more like Yours.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Kaley RheaAbout the author: Kaley Rhea is a St. Louis-area author and one half of the mother/daughter writing team behind 2017 Christian romantic comedy Turtles in the Road (along with the hilarious Rhonda Rhea). She also makes up one third of the writing team for the just-released non-fiction book Messy to Meaningful: Lessons From the Junk Drawer (co-written with Rhonda Rhea and the fabulous Monica Schmelter). She’s unclear on how fractions work, but if Rhonda Rhea is the common denominator, Kaley is pretty sure that makes her like five-sixths of Monica Schmelter. Or something like that.

Join the conversation: How does the fact Jesus has actual empathy affect your relationship with Him?

Photo by Dakota Corbin on Unsplash