Thursday, May 30, 2013


By Lisa Karon Richardson

One of the most difficult emotions to sustain is empathy. Particularly when the recipients are ungrateful and maybe even, in our mind, undeserving. 

Matthew 5:42-47 gives us an idea of what empathy means. "And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that." (The Message)

Because the real truth is that we're all unlovable at times. We can all be nasty. We can all be hateful and mean-spirited when we are hurting and fighting for our prerogatives, our rights, our way. 

Empathy is the art of seeing. Seeing the people behind the masks of social convention. I hope you'll watch the video below. It is aimed at people in the healthcare industry, which is how I came across it, (and if ever there is a field that requires unending reserves of empathy it is healthcare!) but it is an especially poignant reminder to everyone that we all have a story.

Do you have any ideas for how to exercise your empathy muscles? 

Influenced by books like The Secret Garden and The Little Princess, LISA KARON RICHARDSON’S early stories were heavy on boarding schools and creepy houses. Now, even though she’s (mostly) grown-up she still loves a healthy dash of adventure in any story she creates, even her real-life story. She’s been a missionary to the Seychelles and Gabon and now that she and her husband are back in America, they are tackling a brand new adventure, starting a daughter-work church in a new city. Her latest novel Diamond in the Roughco-authored with the brilliant Jennifer AlLee released May 1, 2013, and is the first in the Charm and Deceit, series from Whitaker House. The second in the series, Vanishing Act, is coming in September as is a novella coming entitled “Midnight Clear,” part of the Mistletoe Memories collection.


  1. I'm usually empathetic. I don't mean that to sound like I'm goody-goody. But I'm pretty sure that's my spiritual gift. In spite of that, there are times when it's hard. Usually it's with people who've hurt my family. I'm always ashamed of myself when that happens. But when it's hard, I pray. A lot. Because really, I think that's the only way I can feel empathy when I encounter those people.

  2. If anything, I have too much empathy. Other people's emotions can overwhelm me, and I'm a sucker for manipulation because of it. :( I'm working on that. Like Suzie, I'm much harder on people who hurt my loved ones than on people who hurt me.

  3. I am usually empathetic. But there are some times, I think it may be related to my job, but I can definitely run low on the whole empathy thing. When I do it typically manifests itself in snap judgements about people and their motivations.

  4. I go in spurts. It depends how tired I am or how dysfunctional I feel. Lovely thoughts today, Lisa. The hospital is an ideal place to observe and practice empathy. The portion with the Preemie really got to me.

    I learned how to look at people through God's eyes. I really need to do it more.

  5. Well done, Lisa. Whoever created that video is to be commended, and yes, it brought me to tears.

    The Canadian TV show, The Listener shows some of the same when Toby lets his guard down and everyone's thoughts flood in. Usually he can control it.

    But those unguarded times remind me how God must hear all our thoughts - from the believers as well as non-believers. All those thoughts continuously bombard Him every single second. And yet He gathers them in like stray sheep, offering comfort and peace with an omniscience that goes beyond our capabilities.

    Sometimes I'm quite clueless and slow when it comes to recognizing those in need. At other times, I'm the one who gets it first. Selective understanding?

  6. Deb, I do the same. Much of it dependent on how I am, not on the other person's need. The thing that struck me the most was how much I tend to forget that other people have a story. They aren't just the demanding person on the other end of the phone or whatever the case may be. I want to be more holistic in my view of people, not just as they are in the moment, but seeing them as God sees them.

  7. Anita, Don't tell anyone, but I cried too.

    I don't know the show you're referring to, but very interesting observations. Empathy really goes hand in hand with Love and Mercy, doesn't it?

  8. Man, I cried, too. That is a powerful video. And I thought it was so well done. When they showed glimpses at the end of the people they had shown before, I could remember what they said about each of them. That's just really well done and full of truth.

  9. DeAnna, the thing that did it to me was the little girl going to see her Daddy. Are you kidding me! After that I was a weepy mess through the rest. All defenses down. At work I might add.

    I think the fact that you were able to remember them all was a testament to the power of story. even tiny snippets of story. They weren't just faces anymore. They had been humanized. And of course, that was the whole point.

  10. Great post.

    Sometimes--ok, a lot of times--I am quick to take on other people's emotions. Maybe it's just me, or part of being a writer. I don't know.

  11. The friendly curmudgeon has, I'm afraid, difficulty with being empathetic at times. Part of being a curmudgeon.

    There's a book -- maybe someone else will remember it (about business maybe?) -- that speaks about the "paradigm shift" as that moment when you get just enough new information to completely change your understanding. I remember the example used was a man on a subway. His kids were running around being rowdy while he seemed totally oblivious to their antics. Finally, another passenger approached him about their behavior. And then he apologized -- they were on their way home from the hospital where his wife had just died. Suddenly, no one on that subway car was annoyed with him or the kids.

    I have to remind myself God wants me to be empathic and understanding even when I don't get that extra bit of information.

  12. Susie. as a pastor's wife there's a lot of draw on you for empathy, I know. And you're so sweet, of course, you take on the burdens of your congregation. That's only a problem if you go to the extreme and don't guard your own mental and emotional health.

  13. CJ, you don't seem like much of a curmudgeon to me. But I love the example you shared. It's amazing how we make allowances for people when we see just a bit into their hurts.

  14. Lisa, I joke about being the "friendly curmudgeon" -- usually when I'm taking a contrary view.

    However, I do think that certain personality types are less empathetic naturally than others. I'm more the rational/logical type. Funny thing is, my husband is more empathetic than I am. (I know, the stereotype is the opposite.) It's probably good for a marriage (or friendships) to have one of each to keep the rational types from becoming cynical and to keep the empathetic types from being suckered.

  15. For sure being able to rely on a partner is vital and all the more so when you can support one another's weaknesses.


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