By REV. DR. BRIAN GIGEE
“WHEN EMPATHY LEADS TO COMPASSION”
“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” – Matthew 9:35-36
Sometimes life can feel like being a sheep with no shepherd. The slaughter can be moments away. ‘Helpless,’ is not how our mommas raised us to be; but we all know it takes just a moment for life to be at risk.
The truth is that life is risk for about half the planet. Everyday. Just eking out one more day in order to live one more day. Then there are others… mostly like us… where that’s not the case. Yet, it could be. It’s that gut check to stay in the game. Pay attention. Practice makes perfect. Empathy will lead to compassion.
I’ve come to learn that ‘empathy’ is a feeling of the heart and mind. Compassion is what we do about it. Empathy flows from gratitude. Compassion is the action that puts gratitude into practice. There are tons of examples… with one of the greatest being the parable of the Good Samaritan. You can find it in Luke 10:25-37 and if you do not know that story, it goes something like this…
A man got beat up, robbed, and tossed in a ditch to die. A religious man and a righteous man both came by, saw the man dying and walked away. Wow, the people said. That’s pretty heartless. Then another man came by. An unlikable foreigner. He had a donkey, some money, and the time. He rescued the dying man from the ditch. Hurrah!! And when Jesus told this parable, he asked… “which guy was the neighbor?” Everyone knew the answer.
Another time, Jesus had compassion on a crowd we are told. He had been teaching on a hill and his disciples pointed out it was the end of the day and the people were hungry. Empathy. Jesus response was stellar! “Then YOU give them something to eat,” he said. The disciples exclaimed they had but five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus noted that would be enough. He gave thanks for the food and over 5000 men, women and children were fed with twelve baskets of leftovers for the road.
Man, I love that story. There will always be people who are hungry. There will always be people who can help. Gratitude fuels our empathy and our empathy feeds our compassion… insisting that we do that thing needed when that thing needed shows up. So, if you need help, ask. If someone asks for help, please respond as best you can. Faith matters.
There is a caution, however. Our COVID-19 life is wearing on many. Too many… and can lead to a thing called, ‘compassion fatigue’… a residual trauma feeling like a sheep without a shepherd. It is a gradual and progressive reduction in an individual’s capacity to extend empathy and compassion to those struggling with bigger stuff. The result is we distance ourselves, coping in silence… via a personal disappearing act… to preserve one’s own ability to survive the trauma being experienced second-hand. So, trust this is real as you try to understand someone else’s inability to respond when that moment arrives. Empathy + Compassion = Love.
In the end, it’s one great big circle. Gratitude forces empathy and our empathy makes us compassionate and our compassion lifts others up in order that they can do the same. Faith matters.
Rev. Dr. Brian K. Gigee is a long-time resident of Pearland, having pastored four churches in Texas and Louisiana over the last four decades. Follow his blog ‘murmurings’ at https://briangigee.wordpress.com/. Your comments and/or questions are always welcomed to [email protected].