The Relational Beauty of Empathy
It has long been a mystery to me just why on earth some people have an excess of empathy and some people have a dearth of it. At one end of the spectrum we have people so empathic they end up in relationships with those at the other end of the spectrum – those at the narcissistic end. I don’t think it’s useful in the present discussion to focus on the latter, because the former are so much more worthy of discussion and praise.
But how beautiful it is when two people who are empathetic are joined together. Those with empathy truly deserve those with empathy.
I have done word studies on the Greek word epi-a-case (epieikes) several times over the years. I have always focused on the qualities of this trait in people, but now I would like to focus on the outworking of these traits.
This word means gentleness, meekness, graciousness, and there is definitely a kind patience involved in the person who is characterised by epi-a-case. Such a person is caring and sensitive, and our world often sees these traits as weakness. But the person with epi-a-case isn’t weak at all.
If we add all of these elements together, as far as another person can see, we see in this person the quality of empathy, to at least this regard:
Because of its commitment to grace
empathy will suffer a broken heart,
and yet that suffering will build
even stronger vulnerability.
Empathy can experience
the fullness of God’s reality,
because truth with love,
both to their fullest,
is worth the experience.
Empathy can be bravely vulnerable,
because it knows no other way.
Yet we often suppress empathy
because it feels like weakness.
Particularly in an increasingly narcissistic age,
one of the greatest gifts we can give our children
is opportunities to experience and express empathy.
As far as relational connection is concerned, those with empathy offer warmth of survival in the coldness of conflict. They believe beyond the desolation of the void left by warring parties who prefer estrangement. Empathy reaches and continues to reach out and up, and that can only be called Love.
Love reaches forth without expecting
the other to reach back.
It offers strength to those
who would take strength away.
Yet, love, in the glory of wisdom,
will rebuke the abuser for the abuser’s own good.
Love loves because it can,
not because it must,
not because it’s cajoled,
and definitely not to be repaid.
It is amazing what love becomes when it is manifest in the practicality of empathy. Love like this knows no bounds, and it rides up on the wings of hope, ascending into transcendence, believing against the odds for the purposes of reconciliation.
So, if empathy can be transliterated as love, we need to know that love is the end of all being, as well as being the means to the attaining of it.
Love has its living opportunities.
We take them today or we miss them forever.
And if we miss them today,
we take them tomorrow.
How gracious is the Lord
to esteem to us a full life
of repetitive error
where the opportunity to overcome
is continually presented?
We began with empathy, so we must conclude that way.
The relational beauty of empathy is compelling. It is the trait of those who believe in relationship. Those who would reject empathy, either the partaking of it or the receiving of it, are fools in a relational world and life. Those who would reject empathy are in the class of those who would abuse the very systems that the empathetic support.
But the empathetic have an eternal power beyond destruction. This everlasting supremacy is worth suffering abuse for, because God will have the last say.
Those with empathy truly have God’s Kingdom.
Once they understand that,
they already have everything.
Such a person can only be content.