I didn’t post yesterday, and I’m so excited to tell you guys why next week! Stay tuned…
The thing that I want the most for my kids is for them to love Jesus. Like chase-after-Him-with-total-abandon love. Jesus-is-oozing-out-of-me love. Share-His-love-with-everyone love.
One of the biggest things that I hope comes out of loving Jesus for them is a strong sense of empathy.
I once heard someone describe empathy as “fellow feeling.” Think about that for a quick second. Fellow feeling – “I feel it, too.”
- “You’re frustrated? Yeah, I’d be frustrated, too.”
- “I can see that you feel left out. I understand – I’ve felt that way.”
- “My heart hurts for you that you’ve been so wronged.”
Empathy is a gateway character emotion. If you can feel empathy for someone, so many other things fall right into place – love, mercy and grace, patience, selflessness, advocacy and intervention.
It’s the very reason why Jesus came as a humble man rather than as a king – to be able to say, “I feel it, too,” and we could see and know that He meant it.
“We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all – all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to Him and get what He is so ready to give.” – (Hebrews 4:15-16a, MSG)
Because Jesus had empathy – “fellow feeling” – we can now feel confident in receiving His grace and mercy. That’s what our own empathy can do for others. It can make them feel comfortable enough to accept our help.
In raising my boys to be Spartans, teaching them empathy is so important. Most people are not born with a sense of empathy – we’re self-centered by nature.
So here are some things I use to teach my boys empathy:
We’ve all heard “The Golden Rule” – Treat others how you want to be treated. Did you know it’s Biblical?
Jesus said it.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV)
Basically, this sums up everything. All the rules that God has laid out for us, all the things He says about love – have empathy, and you’ll be on the right track.
If you remember nothing else, practice nothing else, that’s okay. Just stick with this.
It’s such a good way to teach my kids to think – “How would it feel if I was in their shoes?” It changes their attitudes, their thoughts, and their actions almost instantly.
Sometimes it spurs them to defend someone – at this stage of the game, usually their brother. When they think about how their brother is feeling in a group of kids, they often come to the rescue of their brother. See what I mean about a gateway emotion?
Sometimes it just takes some eye opening to become more empathetic.
When Noah didn’t want to go to school last year, I explained how lucky he was that he got to go to school for free in a safe environment that was close to home. I showed him this article about the lengths other kids have to go to in order to get to school because they know that school is special and that learning is important.
When Aidan was in a phase that found us constantly hearing about how positively starving he was, we talked about what it meant to be starving. I didn’t get into the gory details and show them horrific pictures. But we did look at the picture of the little girl we sponsor through Compassion International and talk about the children we fed when we volunteered at Feed My Starving Children. Now that they have a little bit of understanding of what it means to starve, they correct anyone who mentions that they are starving – they’re not starving, they’re hungry.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2, ESV)
You can’t bear another’s burdens without knowing what their burdens are. It’s important to think outside of yourself so that you can really see other people.
It’s not all about sharing in everyone’s suffering and pain that makes us empathetic.
I want our kids to celebrate the successes of others, too! Recognizing others’ achievements and joys is an important part of empathy.
Most significantly in our lives these days, it makes my kids better winners and losers. When they lose, they are starting to be able to be happy for the other team or player. And when they win, they are learning to careful not to gloat or boast, because they remember what it feels like to lose.
“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Cor. 12:26, ESV)
It serves us all so well when we can celebrate other people and cheer them on to their best. It doesn’t take away from our own successes, it just makes us both more successful. Sometimes being happy for other people builds character more than learning of others’ weaknesses.
Empathy is so key to following Jesus, and it’s so key to loving people. How do you teach or learn empathy?
cover photo: Quinn Dombrowski