Choose Empathy

In July, Kailey and I will have been married for two years. Crazy to think how much things have changed for us in those two years and even more so since we first met each other in Alabama in 2014. Through the course of our relationship and definitely in the time we have been married, we both have grown in so many areas of our lives. As a good, wise friend of ours likes to say, “marriage will test your humility. Kids will test your patience.” With no kids yet, it’s been our humility (or lack there of) that is usually put on display on a fairly regular basis.

Early in our relationship, I clung to this idea that it was my job to quickly fix things when Kailey had a problem or felt down or was having a hard day. Arguably my largest area of growth in our marriage is due in large part to me understanding that fixing problems is not my role.

I remember one time when we were both in Lubbock, Texas and recently engaged. Things were incredibly stressful for us. I was applying to graduate programs. Kailey was starting to apply for sports jobs in the markets that I was applying to graduate school, and we were just hoping and praying that God would align the stars for us. On top of that, we were planning a wedding in Florida while we were in Texas. Oh, and did I mention, we had no idea where we were going to live after the wedding? Hopefully, that paints the picture of the stress level we were both feeling.

I remember working at the kitchen table and Kailey is putting some food together so she can go to work. While rummaging through the refrigerator, Kailey knocks a jar of pickles off one of the shelves and… CRASH!! Pickles, pickle juice and shards of glass everywhere.

Kailey immediately hangs her head and starts to cry. Me, being the master problem solver and clueless dude that I am, jumped up, put my hand on her shoulder and said, “Babe, don’t worry about it. I’ll pick it up and go buy some more pickles. It’s not a big deal.”

Kailey, wailing through sobs says, “It’s not….about…. the pickles!”

Kailey loves to use that story to illustrate how, generally speaking, women have lots of thoughts running through their mind, while men tend to only notice the things that are right in front of them. I am bringing this story up to show how quickly I was to try to fix a problem and make her pain stop. Let me add that it was not a completely selfless and chivalrous act in trying to end her pain because at the same time, I also wanted to feel good about myself for being able to solve a problem. The more I think about it, the more I see how that’s not just a husband-wives or significant other type of interpersonal habit. That urge to want to go immediately to the solution is something that we generally do as a society. We so often want to go directly to the fix so that the pain can stop immediately. And sometimes, if we’re being honest, we want to fix people’s problems quickly because we are uncomfortable being around other people’s pain.

Our story of the broken pickle jar reminds me of another story that happened much longer ago than the time we were in Lubbock. In a town called Judea, a man named Lazarus fell incredibly ill. Lazarus was very close to Jesus. When word got to Jesus about Lazarus’ illness, Jesus and the disciples made their way to Bethany. If you want to read the whole story, it’s in the book of John, chapter 11, verse one through 44.

Lazarus died before Jesus arrived in Bethany. In fact, when Jesus did arrive, Lazarus had already been dead for four days and his body lay in a tomb. The people were heartbroken. I’m going to skip ahead and tell you how this portion of the story ends.

Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

It’s this amazing exchange where Jesus tells the people and the family of Lazarus that he is not dead but sleeping. Jesus tells the people to remove the stone from the entrance of Lazarus’s tomb. The people are understandably hesitant and even tell Jesus that it’s going to stink terribly if they take away the stone. But reluctantly, they remove the stone, and Jesus calls into the tomb for Lazarus to come out. The next thing they know, out walks Lazarus with strips of linen and cloth around his face, good as new. Jesus says, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go” (John 11:44).

Incredible! Talk about fixing a problem. Lazarus was dead for four days, but even that was not too much for Jesus. This miracle is obviously the most stunning part of the story, but there is this one part that I think gives us so much insight and wisdom into how we should approach people who are in pain. This part is so easily overlooked, possibly because it is the shortest verse in the Bible – “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

When Jesus arrived, he was greeted by Martha, Lazarus’ sister. Martha then leaves to get Mary, another sister of Lazarus, and bring her to Jesus. When the people grieving with Mary see her leaving, they follow, thinking she is going to the gravesite. Let’s pick things up in verse 32:

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked.

‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied.

Jesus wept.

John 11:32-35

If there was ever a person who could quickly solve literally every problem possible, it was Jesus. Jesus knew exactly what he was about to do. Jesus knew that moments from now, all of these people were going to be amazed and their pain and sorrow would vanish, because the loved one that was dead was about to rise again. But Jesus did something so foreign to so many of us.

Despite knowing and being the source of the solution, Jesus chose empathy.

He did not choose to go directly to the conclusion, but he chose to sit along side Mary, Martha and the others in their pain. This is such a powerful example. I so often want to fix problems, make pain stop and move on. But with this incredible example given by Jesus, maybe we aren’t meant to offer solutions to people’s problems as soon as we hear them. When our friend, loved-one or neighbor is hurting, maybe we are meant to choose empathy, and sit with them in their pain to make sure they know that they are not alone.

If you’re going through something in your life right now that is causing you pain, I hope you know that you are loved and you are not alone. I hope that you have loved ones that are walking right along side you while you struggle through whatever pain you are dealing with. I also pray you know that you are unconditionally loved by a God who would do anything to spend forever with you.

And for any husbands out there who find their wives standing in a pile of shattered glass and pickle juice… don’t take it from me, but take this advice from Jesus:

Choose empathy.

 

 

 

 

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