03 October 2008

Sympathy vs Empathy

As I sit alone in my home, feeling poorly because of whatever cooties are coursing through my body, I realized I was having a pity party. Feeling sorry for yourself is such a useless endeavor and yet we always seem to go there as if it is a profitable enterprise. We know we will not derive the tiniest bit of benefit but we go there. Why? Because, "Ah! It hurts so good!'

You know how your mind sort of skips around when you're feverish? Like you cannot quite hold on to a cogent thought but you can't keep yourself from thinking? Perhaps I am the only one who suffers from this phenomenon, but when I am feverish my mind whirls and skips in slow motion. I decided I would try to concentrate on something profound rather than feel sorry for myself. Here's what I came up with.

One of the books I am reading is "The Heart of the Cross," by John Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken. It's a small book and an easy read but it is packed with things that my heart needs to hear and grapple with. One of the things that came to mind while feeling sorry for myself for being sick is a paragraph from the book on Christ:

The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is a fearful thing, but it is good news for sinners who repent. It is good news because it means that when you meet Jesus Christ at the cross you are meeting someone who has experienced the full measure of the tragedy of human existence. Out of his own experience of physical suffering and spiritual rejection, Jesus not only sympathizes with your pain, he empathizes too.

Hmmm. Empathy and sympathy. Did you know that the word empathy has only been around since the early 1900's with the introduction of modern psychology? Sure, it has its derivation from a Greek word, but we can thank the Germans for its modern use although we don't seem to use it as it was originally intended.

Empathy is a difficult term to define. It's like trying to catch fog in a jar. You can see fog, you can know that it is there and it has form and substance but you cannot hold it and you can't take a glass jar and scoop it up. Sympathy is not so difficult as it has been used a long time. Aristotle was familiar with it. He used the term sympathy and it has been around ever since. Sympathy is the ability to relate to what someone is experiencing because we have been there and done that. Empathy is the ability to project or imagine how someone would feel although you have not experienced the same thing.

The modern ideas of empathy and sympathy aside, it is a blessing to realize that my Savior is not unfamiliar with my emotions nor is he unaware of the frailty of my human condition. Whether lounging on the couch feeling sorry for myself or wrestling with my flesh, Christ has met my needs with his life, death and resurrection. He is the one upon whom my hope rests. My peace with God is not the absence of conflict but the presence of hope, the hope of Christ, despite the conflicts that terrorize my soul.

A little further in the book Boice and Ryken write: "You are helpless, hopeless and unrighteous- unless, that is, you come to the cross to ask for the help, the hope, and the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Then the cross is full of the hope and help you need."

Now that's what my soul needs to hear. Can someone give me an amen and pass the antibiotics?


Lockheed said...

Love you Rozie, praying for you and hope you get better soon!

graceb4me said...

I love you, and am beside myself with worry...
well, maybe not beside myself, but I am concerned...but not so much so that I am questioning God's hand in your life...
(I hope that made you smile!)
miss you! can't wait to see you in channel again! See you soon :)