If we’re supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep, have you ever wondered how you do that? What if you’ve never come close to experiencing what your friend has?
While people who’ve actually walked in another’s shoes have an extra dose of understanding, empathy is still possible for the rest of us.
Empathy is the vicarious experiencing of the emotions of another. It means imagining what life is like for that person and how they might feel. Some people seem to have it naturally and some don’t. But we can all grow in this area.
If you’re not sure what to say, the best thing is to keep mum. Say nothing … but don’t do nothing. The most helpful thing always is to pray for your hurting friend. If they’re nearby, go to them. Put your arm around them, or just be present with them.
But sometimes, a few carefully-chosen words can go a long way. Some examples:
Anniversary of a death, or birthday of a loved one who is gone: “I’m thinking of you today.” Don’t fear that your comment will bring forgotten pain to the surface all over again. Believe me, the significance of the day will not go unnoticed by your friend. It’ll never be a normal day for them and it’ll mean a lot that you acknowledge that.
Any type of loss (life, job, possessions, dreams): “I’m so sorry. I want you to know I care about you.”
One type of loss is overlooked by many. That is the death (or dying) of a dream for women who have not had children. (Is there a little girl alive who hasn’t dreamed of “when you’re a mommy some day?”)
Last week was Mother’s Day. Over the past few years, I’ve been beating the drum to alert people (especially pastors and those planning church services) to something I’ve discovered. Women who aren’t moms do not like going to church on Mother’s Day. I’ve talked to a lot of women in this situation, and although my random sample may be unscientific, 100% of those I’ve talked to do not want to go. Some do go and at best feel awkward, at worst suffer through the insensitivity to the point that they resolve never to put themselves through that again.
I had decided not to bring up the topic again this year. But on Sunday, as I sat through the usual gushing over the moms in our congregation, I thought about comments that could offer comfort. I know a lot of you sincerely want to help but don’t know how. Hopefully, my ideas will spur you on.
As with any loss, no one wants the day unacknowledged, although that’s much preferable to insensitive comments. (Personally, when someone who knows me well and knows I haven’t had kids wishes me “Happy Mother’s Day,” I wonder why. What’s the point? If you’re not a mom, isn’t “Happy Day” more appropriate? They wouldn’t wish me a “Happy Father’s Day,” so there’s some attempt at recognition. I’d rather they didn’t say anything beyond “Hello.”)
This is what I decided I’d appreciate:
- A simple, “I hope you have a good day today.” It’s even sweeter when accompanied with a hug.
- An invitation to lunch, as long as it’s not a lunch that’s all about Mother’s Day. Even if your friend doesn’t come, she’ll probably never forget your kindness.
- Even better would be, “I want you to know I appreciate you” or “I appreciate your role in our church, my life, etc.”
- More specifically, “I appreciate how God has used you in so many people’s lives.” And then name some ways. After all, aren’t we all tasked with raising spiritual offspring who resemble their Father? Let her know how she has done this.
- If you have a real heart-level friendship with this friend, you could say, “I think you would have been an awesome mother.” This is bound to elicit tears but it will minister to the deepest hurt and fear in her heart.
These principles apply to anyone who has experienced any type of loss or heartache. Try to imagine how they feel and ask God to help you weep with them. He can develop empathy in any of us.
What about you? What would you prefer to hear when you’re hurting?