The Value of Empathy When Others are Suffering

Has this happened to you? You’re sitting in the church but you’re distracted because your mind is spinning and you’re stressed. Maybe you’re worried about work or whether there’s enough money to support your family. Maybe you’re having problems getting along with your spouse or children. Or maybe you feel so lonely and you long for someone to spend your weekends with.

How can we truly connect with the people sitting in the pews behind or in front of us, especially when our lives are so busy and our problems are too embarrassing to share? In the United States, in particular, there is a tendency for people to live life on their own terms—and that can include going through painful events or trying experiences on our own.

But sharing our suffering with one another can be so liberating because we realize that we don’t have to handle things alone. We can find encouragement through others. “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).”

Empathizing with one another can also be a potent Christian witness because people can finally find the acceptance they’ve been looking for throughout their lives. That acceptance isn’t a superficial acceptance, such as liking the same things and having the same interests or a similar life story; that acceptance comes from knowing that each of us have fallen short of the glory of God and yet we can all partake of Jesus’ sacrificial love.

But how can we suffer together? Look at 2 Corinthians 1:4. In this verse, Paul writes that God “comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”

With that in mind, here are some ways we can empathize with others and share our sufferings:

  1. Pray for God to lead you to those with whom you can share your suffering. One of the wonderful aspects of God is that He truly cares for you, and so He can direct you to people who might offer you insights, sympathy or even just a listening ear. God can place people in your life for a purpose, so ask Him who you can reach out to—whether that means finding someone or a group of people to share your burdens with or being a comforting presence to someone in need.

  2. Be willing to get out of your comfort zone, and also be willing to allow others to be vulnerable in front of you. In sharing with others the troubles we’re facing, we might be embarrassed or ashamed. But allowing others to guide you through seeing how God’s presence and love permeate through whatever circumstances you’re facing can be so liberating and freeing. Likewise, if someone comes to us with their pain or their struggles, we should show brotherly love and not shame or condemn them. Let the Lord judge, and if a person needs correction, let it be under His guidance and care.

  3. Learn how you can serve others around you, and also learn how others like to be served. Bearing one another’s burdens don’t necessarily translate only into having deep conversations. Sometimes people prefer silence but they still might want your presence. We can show our empathy by hanging out through a physical activity like a game of basketball or providing cookies or a meal. What is your love language, and what is the love language of the person whose burdens you are helping to bear?
    In closing, let us thank God that we don’t have to handle our problems all by ourselves. Not only has God given us Himself, but he’s given us communities of friends, families, and churches to encourage us.