I apologize for not updating my blog recently. The fact of the matter is that I have a lot of interests and very little time. Lack of time is a problem many of us face, especially as we grow older and gain responsibilities. This can be a blessing and a curse. My desire to continue this blog has not waivered or died. I want to continue this blog because I feel it allows me to express and share my Christian views on life. Even if I am my only reader, I feel it strengthens my own faith. Now, with that said let me get to my post.
I have been reading through a magazine my dad gave me called Family Foundations. It has several articles that are geared toward engage and newly married couples. I recently came across an article written by Dr. Stephen J. Genius (good name right?) on the importance of empathy in marriage. He brought up many good points and I believe that we need to show empathy in not only our marriage but in all our relationships.
Empathy is not acceptance or weakness. A definition of the term states that it is identification with the understanding of another’s situation, feelings and motives. It can be very hard for us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and not rush to judgment. In order to have a successful relationship there must be an understanding. We can not understand without being able to identify with that person. When we are quick to anger without first examining the situation, we are wrong. This is something many have not figured out, but it’s an old adage. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29).
I still struggle at times to keep from judging without understanding, and I remember situations as a young child where I was quick to judgment. I was riding home with my mom and we were at a stop light when I looked out the window. It was summer, so it was hot and we had the windows down. There was a man driving the car beside us who had an earring and he was smoking. I remember saying to my mom in a loud voice, “Look mom, that man is smoking. He is bad!” Of course mom was a little embarrassed since the man could certainly hear what I had to say, but I was just an innocent kid and I didn’t know better. This man made some lifestyle decisions that I had been taught was wrong, and so I thought this man must be a bad person. I’ve grown to realize that things are not always so black and white.
It is important to restate that empathy is not acceptance but an understanding. I do not condone smoking. I think it's a stupid habit, but I understand that habits are hard to break. I have a bad habit of biting my fingernails. I don't even know how it started, but it's a habit that is hard for me to break. I would hope nobody watches me bite my nails and think that I am a bad person. Understanding is knowledge, and with knowledge we can make informed conclusions and decisions that might lead to change. For example, when I was in college I rented a house with 3 of my high school buddies. They are all really great guys and I got to know them a lot better during the time I lived with them, but they made some bad choices. Like several college aged kids, they did not understand the great gift of abstinence before marriage. Often times girls would stay the night, and it brought some tension between me and my fellow roommates. My reaction was often to stay quiet, ignore them for a while; pretend the issue wasn’t there and then eventually forget about it. There was nothing I could do about it, right? I could just show them by my example that I disagreed with their lifestyle. Well, eventually I began to think negatively of my friends. I’m not talking about their actions, but them as people. I was truly mad, but I had not done anything to let them know it was bothering me. I also didn’t understand them like I thought I did. They were not privileged enough to grow up in the same family and support system I did. I had an opportunity to have a positive influence on them, but rather I held them in contempt. I saw how their relationships would fall apart constantly. When people live like this, relationships never last. I had an opportunity to educate them and improve their lives, but I chose to do nothing and as a result I was upset.
What good comes from thinking bad about someone? All we are doing when we do this is hurt ourselves. If we truly want to make changes in people’s lives, we must know how to communicate with them and touch their hearts and minds so that they will change their ways. It’s easy to tune out a person who is quick tempered and folly, but one who speaks from a position of reason, truth and understanding is one who can make a difference. He is the one who will have good relationships. He is the one who will bring Christ in people’s lives who don’t truly know Him. Empathy does not divide but heals. Empathy is not acceptance but understanding. Empathy is not weakness just as Jesus dying on the cross was not weakness. Empathy is love. God bless!