The Dangers of Empathy

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It all began with empathy.

I lost myself in the midst of putting on the views of others. Their glasses of hatred  plastered, soldered to their faces. They haven’t known your love – they fear it. They haven’t seen your creation.

But you teach that empathy, to be in the world, to immerse ourselves in culture. You teach us to steep our minds in what makes the world tick, what drives them, what makes them feel. But, those things are toxic so you tell us to steep our souls in light – in a truth that is bigger than ourselves and our immediate needs and desires.

You teach us to be empathetic: To love the world.

See? It all began with empathy.

That wouldn’t be so horrible, if this didn’t come so naturally to me. Somedays I think a bent towards empathy somehow makes things worse.

Because of these empathetic tendencies and the orders you’ve dealt, I’ve gotten caught up in what the world says about You.

I’ve forgotten You and who you really are. How I’ve missed you. I wish You’d come back to me. I see you trying and I know it’s my stubbornness that gets in the way. It’s like a fog or a fire rising, building a fickle wall between us.

You burst through but I turn the other way. You come to rescue me with your water but I continue choosing the fire.

I thought it could happen, but never thought it would. This separation.

I’ve caved to the criticisms of you – those criticisms of you by those who have never known your heart. Your beautiful warm heart for us. How could they know? And yet, I’ve listened to their hateful cries, believed their slanderous lies about the God I knew before my ears were filled with their protests.

But in the process of loving, sometimes we get lost. Sometimes we forget that once upon a time we were on a mission to love the world and that mission came from someone who did it long before us. That person loved the world to the point of breaking, to the point of death.

How did you keep yourself in tact? Fully man – you struggled with all the same temptations we do.

How did you remain separated?

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to do. At some point I stopped trying.

There are days it’s too much. The weight of the world is too much – to be truly in it and maintain a balance. I am only human. We are only human. We are flawed and when we are surrounded by those who are drifting, and only those who are drifting, eventually we drift as well no matter how strong we thought we once were.

This is the danger of Empathy.

You teach us to feel for and love the poor in spirit. Does this include the hateful? The bitter? The broken? The cynical? Possibly.

Probably.

But when we do choose to love them, attempt to love them in an unconditional manner, we sometimes – okay, most of the time – fail. I dot. I become obsessive about seeing things the way they see them. I completely understand their frustrations with the church and the sometimes judgmental perspective of “religious” people. I get it. I’m not about to tell them they’re wrong to be angry about that. They are fully in the right and I’m right there with them.

So I adapt other worldviews, while still knowing You. Loving You. But then I notice something – you don’t seem the same. You seem far, distant. The world’s perspective of you is beginning to affect my own perspective of you.

Was there really a time when I felt you so close? So incredibly and tangibly near? I know there was but I suddenly feel naive.

Was it real? Was it all some grand cosmic joke?

To put yourself in the world and not of it means to be vulnerable with others. Completely. Inevitably you will get hurt. You’ll get hurt bad.

Disappointment occurs. Rejection and suddenly I am clinging to, revelling in their hatred. I’m joining the perspective of those with whom I wanted to share your love. Now I understand their perspective. Believe it even.

And now I realize you’re not just far away, but it feels like you are nowhere to be found. I know in the depths of who I am – deep in my bones, I know that’s not true.

You are here. You’ve been here. I might have turned away. Maybe you are here, but I don’t think you’re the same God anymore. It’s my perspective that changes, not you – never who you are. So how do I get there? How do I ever find you?

I have so many questions that need answering. There are days when I feel myself spiraling and I know if I don’t take action, I will turn away from you for good.

But.

I have seen your work. I know your heart. I have felt you. I’ve seen your miracles. These are things I can not just sweep under the rug.

So I wait.

And in the waiting, I find others like me who are broken, who have been hurt and dragged through the mud. They, too, are picking shards of glass from their hearts and even though they are wounded, they are not giving up on you.

We are not giving up on you.

We are choosing hope.

We tell each other this is a season of life – it won’t always feel like this. We know this is true because of our past experiences and we are vulnerable with each other and we love each other in the midst of these hurts.

We create a safe space to heal. A place to lay our hearts and step away and rest. And while we rest, our hearts are being mended.

We wait for you together.

Most of us don’t feel you now. You seem far, but rather than giving up, we are pressing into you and returning to a Word of hope, though it’s something we don’t understand.

We have so many doubts. We are cynical, bruised, protective, skeptical, but we are fighting against the bitter current of life and refuse to give up. We are hoping for more.

In the midst of all of this hurt, we at least have each other.

And what’s funny? I see glimpses of you – of that heart I once knew….I see it in them. In the smiles masking their pain. In their vulnerability and bravery as they share stories of their own heartbreak and disappointments.

You’re coming back to me, piece by piece through others who have also been broken by the world. 
If these are the dangers of empathy,… well. I’m finding the outcome is something rather beautiful.

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