The long arc of God’s activity in the world is moving toward restoration. We live in the hope that one day God will fully restore all that sin has destroyed. “Behold, I am making all things new” are words that hold a promise worth leaning into (Revelation 21:5).
As followers of Jesus we don’t just wait for restoration to happen. We are called and empowered by God’s Spirit to participate in God’s restorative movement in daily life. But how do we do that? How do we bring restoration to classmates, co-workers, neighbors and family members who are struggling?
According to sociologist and researcher, Brene Brown, a good place to start is with empathy. Empathy is comprised of four qualities:
- Taking on the perspective of another
- Staying out of judgment
- Recognizing emotion in others
- Communicating that recognition
According to Brown something transformational and restorative happens when hardship meets empathy.
As followers of Jesus we know that. Among other things Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion assure us that the One who is at work in the world knows just how we feel. Jesus has “been there, done that”. And Jesus’ resurrection assures us that this same One dwells with us in our hardship, pain and suffering. The life of the risen Christ transcends the limits of time and space, able to fill each of us and all of creation simultaneously. The writer of Hebrews put Jesus’ empathy this way, “Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin!” (Hebrews 4:15)
Jesus never promised to take away our hardship and struggle. Instead, he promised to meet us in the midst of it. And because he knows hardship and struggle firsthand he meets us with empathy. We are never alone in our suffering. And that changes everything.
As followers of Jesus we’re called and empowered to meet others with empathy, and when we do we participate in the restorative movement of God in the world.
Take a moment and watch this short video in which Brene Brown beautifully illustrates the power of empathy.
Who in your life needs empathy today?
Jeff Marian is lead pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.