Chris, one of my friends, was in a seminary class when someone raised his hand and asked the professor: What is your best advice on how to be a good pastor?”
“Empathy,” the professor replied. “Have empathy.”
Then Chris raised his hand. “How do you get empathy?
With a trace of sad knowing in his eyes, the wise older man replied, “Suffer.”
Chris now understood. Empathy isn’t something you learn; empathy is something you live. Click & Tweet!
One of the greatest ways God puts to use what He puts us through or what we’ve put ourselves through is by creating in us a deeper sense of compassion than we would have ever known without the trauma.
The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum, meaning “to suffer with.” Compassion for brokenness comes from brokenness. There’s really no other way.
When we hold the hands of weary friends, not as people who can fix their problems, but as people who understand their pain and “suffer with” them, it gives them comfort. I’ll walk through this with you. I get it. I may not understand the particulars of your struggle, but I do understand disappointment and heart-wrenching pain. Only when we have experienced our own disappointment can we sympathize with the disappointment of others.
One of my greatest gifts from the loss of our child was a deeper compassion for women who struggle with infertility and loss. No one in my family had ever died before in my lifetime except my grandma, but her death was expected because she was old. However, when my baby died, that was not expected. When she died, something else in me was born—a deep-seated compassion for those who have prayed for years but not received the hoped-for reply, for the women whose dreams became nightmares, and for women who wanted answers but got none.
Paul wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and 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 1:3–4, emphasis added).
The word translated “comfort” in this verse is the Greek word parakalōn. It comes from the root words para and kaleo, which mean “to call near, to invite, invoke.” When we tell our stories to someone who is hurting, we come near to them and our words comfort them in a way that empty platitudes and easily recited Bible verses cannot. Click & Tweet!
When we say, “Let me tell you what I’ve gone through,” or “Let me tell you how I’ve failed,” the hearer no longer feels isolated and alone in her struggle. Suppose there is someone who understands. Suppose you are that someone, and you need to tell your story. When you share the comfort that you have experienced in your struggles, when you’re honest and vulnerable with the facts, it lets the hearer believe there is hope for a better story.
God doesn’t comfort us just to make us comfortable. He comforts us in order to make us comfort-able—able to comfort others. When we keep our stories to ourselves, we deny others the comfort that is ours to give.
No one can comfort a woman with cancer like a woman who has also heard the word malignant from a doctor’s diagnosis.
No one can comfort the mother of a prodigal like a mother who has also worn her knees raw praying for her child to come home.
No one can comfort an abandoned wife like another woman who has also watched her husband walk out the door.
No one can comfort a woman who’s struggling with the shame of an abortion like a woman who has experienced forgiveness and grace for her own.
When you tell your story, you give your listener the gift of knowing that she is not alone. She will breathe a sigh of relief that says, “I thought I was the only one. Finally, someone who understands.”
Father, thank You for the hard times because they have made me stronger, wiser, and more compassionate toward others. Help me not to waste what I’ve been through, but to use what I’ve learned about You through the struggles to help someone else get through theirs. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Take an inventory and note what struggles God has brought you through. How can you use what you’ve learned about God during those struggles to help others?
If you haven’t gotten your copy of When You Don’t Like Your Story: What If Your Worst Chapters Could Become Your Greatest Victories, now’s the time. You don’t need to carry the burden of a painful past any longer. And if you have already read the book, think of someone you know who needs that healing message! You might be the catalyst to her biggest victory ever.