The Pain And Pleasure of Learning Empathy

Empathy: Feeling for Each Other

Empathy: Learning How

Thank you for your willingness to learn empathy from me.

Learning the Pain and Pleasure of Empathy. You may wonder how I learned empathy, and how I became a counselor. Well, you already know! Yep, you’ve already read the lessons I learned:

  1. Blunder with the woman who shared her transgression – I had to consider understanding another person. Read
  2. Blunder with the man who exploded in anger at the idea of God – I had to learn to ease genltly into a converssation with someone I had just met. To know the person before I shared even the love of God. Read
  3. Blunder telling a crying woman, “Life can’t be that bad.” Read
  4. Confrontation from my church member – who taught me to “think like the other guy.” Read

Painful

In other words, I learned empathy mostly under supervision from people more experienced, who were invested in my growth in effectiveness with people. But there’s another dynamic present in all of my experiences: They were painful. I got stung over and over. One supervisor in a group setting, after I reported something I had said to a patient on the ward, exploded, “Why the hell did you say THAT?”

I remembered those early experiences; they were a part of my training experience. They became part of me. I learned. L. Doward McBain, former president of American Baptist Seminary of the West once told me, “We never learn anything without tension; we never admit it at the time.”

I don’t know what you need to do to learn empathy, presuming you want to. But I want to encourage you. By telling you how painful it was for me to learn empathy, I know it will be painful for you also. So, learn from your blunders; we’re all human. We have to begin somewhere. I told you mom’s response if I dared challenge her, “That’s Why and Z, too!” Not good empathy training. So I had to learn it the hard way.

Learning the Pain and Pleasure in Empathy

But I want to encourage you. Here’s a brief (15 minute) video of Simon Sinek, inspirational business speaker, who speaks on Empathy. Consider this learning empathy the easy way (if you do what he says): Watch Simon Sinek on Empathy HERE

Simon Sinek on Empathy

Best Speech of All Time-Simon Sinek

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How You Show “I Get It”!

Young man holding head, closed eyes

What Would You Say To This Young Man? 

How would you show him that you “Get it”? You’ve listened to him long enough to begin to see things from his perspective. You’ve withheld your judgment or and criticism. And now you feel what he’s feeling- even if only just a little bit. So, what would you say? How to let him know you “I understand”? How to show him you “get it?”

Empathy requires that we take one further step: show the person we understand by sharing with the person what they’re feeling:

  • “I can see you’re having a hard time dealing with this.”
  • “You’re looking depressed to me.”
  • “You must feel very discouraged right now.”
  • “You’re probably close to giving up!”

The key here is taking your friend’s feeling and putting that into words, then sharing it with them. This lets them know, “I get it!” “I get how you’re feeling.” “I understand (some of) what you’re going through.”

A Woman’s Transgression

A woman once shared her transgression with me. As a student chaplain, still in seminary, I spent one day a week at the local psychiatric hospital to learn how to help people. It was wrong, what the woman did, and I pointed that out. When I told my experienced chaplain supervisor how I had handled the conversation, however, he took a different tack, one I had never thought of. If I could allow the woman to discuss her feelings with me, perhaps, this would give her the idea, “This person understands me.” That I should communicate understanding was new to me.

In my learning empathy for people, I had failed to understand the woman’s perspective, failed to remain nonjudgmental, and failed to understand how she felt. How could I, therefore, take the final step to communicate verbally that I recognized her feelings?

How To Show Them You “Get it”!

You remember our progress understanding empathy. Recall these three steps we’ve discussed in earlier emails, here, here, and here:

  1. Taking the other’s point of view, temporarily at least
  2. Remaining free of judgment or criticism
  3. Detecting emotion, either a core emotion, such as fear, or a defensive one, such as anxiety.

 4. The Fourth Step in offering empathy to someone experiencing a crisis: Show them that you, on the basis of their sharing with you, perceive how they are feeling. For example, after listening for a period, you might say, “I can see you’re feeling depressed right now,” “You seem to feel guilty for crying,” or “You’re overwhelmed with fear, it seems.” Best to be tentative, and await confirmation. You can naturally express, however, what you observe. We must take this last step in order to let the other person know we “get it.” It’s not enough to see the other person’s viewpoint, remain free of criticism, and detect emotion. We must now communicate what we sense in their feeling, or what they’ve told us they feel, back to them. That lets them know that you, indeed, did “hear” their struggle, emotional pain, or conflict.

How Do We Feel?

How do we feel when someone accurately sees things from our point of view, and, without criticism, recognizes what we are feeling and can verbalize it accurately? We don’t have to try harder to communicate the depth of our anguish. And, we don’t feel quite as wierd, since someone else recognizes an emotion common to the human race.

Such a relief! Can you appreciate how a person in crisis feels when you, finally, “hear” them? It relieves them of the tension of communicating, of fearing no one understands, or will understand. What joy!

[Credits: Photo: Courtesy Adrian Swancar, Unsplash.com. Definition of Empathy: Teresa Wiseman, RN, medical researcher.

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“If There Is A God, He Must Be A B******!”

Two Bison Butt Heads

Empathy Avoids Butting Heads

                                      Empathy Avoids Butting Heads

Sitting in the dayroom of the psychiatric hospital, a young man played solitaire as I approached. Instead of introducing myself by name, I said, “I’m the new chaplain on the ward. I’ve come to tell you of a God of love.”

“If there is a God,” the man said, as he stood up, “he must be a b******!”, the man shot back, as he slammed his right fist into his left hand. I had taken a seat opposite him by this time. I froze. Unable to speak, or move, I was saved by the chief psychiatrist who happened to walk by and hear the commotion. Engaging the young man in conversation, while puffing his pipe, the doctor calmly asked, “What’s going on?”

“I’m angry!” the young man said.

“Okay, so you’re angry. Let’s take a look at it,” said the doctor.

After a few minutes of conversation about the reasons for his anger, we left the young man to his solitaire. The doctor, however, encouraged me to continue my relationship with the young man through regular visits. This I did and we enjoyed card games and conversations from then on. Repairing the relationship was important, but I leaned another lesson about empathy: don’t butt heads.

Avoiding Judgment

Like the psychiatrist, empathy seeks to understand how the other person feels, but also demands more. Empathy requires that we hold back our negative assessment: “You’re wrong” to say that, to think that, to feel that way, etc. We not only attempt to think like the other person, but we also deliberately refrain from judgment. If we don’t agree at all with what they say, we still maintain our focus on them. Not us.

Empathy avoids butting heads. Few will encounter the kind of  disturbed person I did, but the principle of empathy holds. I led with the welcoming message of God’s love. The young man, however, had personal experiences which made the idea of God explosive. Once again, by failing to know him, I blundered. Also, my beginning with God also introduced the idea of judgment.

When someone shares their troubles with us, we usually find it difficult to hold back how we feel about what they say. It takes discipline to tell ourself, “No, this isn’t about me, right now. I need to hear this person out.” That’s the challenge of looking at the issue from the other person’s point of view. I’ve shared previously on this in “

Avoiding Agreement

 But what if we agree fully with what they’re saying. In that case, we want to jump in with, “I agree! You’re so right.”

Empathy avoids butting heads –negative evaluation, disagreement. In fact, however, it withholds any evaluation at all. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or not. What matters is what this other person says, feels, and experiences. Remember, understanding from their point of view is out target. Whatever blocks communication we want to avoid. Judging the other person does that. If you say what you think, you sidetrack the conversation to you, what you think, feel, etc. We want to keep the person talking so that we learn as much as possible, but also demonstrate how important they are to us.

When They Ask Us

At times, the other person will ask, “Well, what do you think?” Instead of responding directly, empathy might say, “You’d like to know what I think, but I’m more interested right now in how you see it.” Withholding judgment-positive or negative- is another part of expressing empathy. When Jesus spoke with people, most of the time he withheld judgment. People in grief, tragedy, or crisis need to keep talking; we, therefore, need to refrain from putting up roadblocks.

Have you practiced the art of listening to learn another’s point of view, and withheld any evaluation that might stymie their sharing? Send in your experiences for me to share with others, like. Learning empathy is slow, even painful, as you can see by my stories. But people value a good listener as a valued friend, marriage partner, comforter in grief, and as a disciple of Jesus.

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Empathy: A Reader Responds

The Power of Empathy

The Power of Empathy

After I invited subscribers to share their experiences of reaching out with empathy, I received this response, printed with permission:

Good morning Gordon,

I’ve been thinking and praying about an opportunity to share something centered around your empathy emails. God has really used your words to open my mind to a fuller understanding of what that really means in so many areas: my prayer life, my actions and my REactions to life issues. Here’s something I feel the Lord leading me to share.

Several years ago a very dear girlfriend lost her husband. She was able to share details of how she felt and how difficult it was for her to cope with simple daily responsibilities – but the most devastating for her was the loneliness and isolation because she felt like a 3rd or 5th wheel in a gathering of her friends who still had their husbands- it was nothing they did. She knew it was her own feelings of anguish, depression and anxiety that propelled those feelings. Now 6 years later she still struggles but with more grace and more God-centered enlightenment, which gives her great strength. She’s a very strong Christian, so she knew “what” she had to do & “how” to do it, but her emotions often got the best of her, which paralyzed her. I listened but admittedly didn’t truly empathize.

I have felt sad for her while trying to understand. My husband and I have felt a prodding from the Lord to supply her with financial help: food, physical help around her house etc. She has always been very appreciative.

Truth be fully told though – I can’t say I ever tried to “empathize” with her by putting myself in her place. It was too painful to go that far, perhaps. God forgive me.

Once I began putting your ideas for empathy into place with her, I noticed the Lord opening several doors toward other women I barely knew and another I’ve known for many years who also had lost their husbands. I guess we’re now at that stage of life where this occurs more often. You know like when you’re 18 and all your friends are graduating High School, then, at age 23, college graduations, soon after weddings, then children, and grandchildren, and now this.

As the Lord began to make me more astute to my new friends’ agonizing pain through the loss of their husbands I was able to “empathize” – hopefully enough – certainly more than before and hopefully more in the future as I’m willing to let God fill that part of me and pour it out. I had to ASK the Lord to help me do this, though.

What I’ve seen is a tremendous outpouring of the Holy Spirit on their lives, as well as my own. It’s incredible!! It’s spirit-filled! It’s joy-filled! I became so overwhelmed with a deep thankfulness for still having my dear husband with me here on earth! I don’t expect to be able to fully grasp their pain in entirety because that hasn’t been my experience but I can certainly utilize “empathy” toward them that I’ve found has been life changing for these widows and me! – It’s also contagious! I noticed as others in my church witnessed this outpouring of the Holy Spirit through empathetic energies and more hands-on prayer and actions, others began to display the same feelings of empathy and tribute to these widows. What a God we have! These women have expressed, with tears running down their faces, that their void has been filling in, due to all this which was, I believe, triggered by simple but profound empathy from so many – directed by the Holy Spirit!

Thank You, Lord, and thank you, Gordon, for bringing this incredible lesson into a full spectrum of light.

I think of the following verses. (Italics mine)

“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” Matthew 3:11 “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit,” Titus 3:5 “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” 1 Cor. 12:13

Honour widows that are widows indeed. But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God.” 1 Timothy 5: 3-4
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this,
To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, [and] to keep himself unspotted from the world.” James 1:27 “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.” Acts 6:1

Abba, help me to remain steadfast in all that You encourage me to do. Keep me ever vigilant to learn of You through any means You deem necessary so that I may be obedient to Your call on my life. Forgive me for being slothly in my desire to understand because of my own selfish fears. Help me to put on faith in place of fear; strength instead of weakness; love instead of indifference. Show me the errors of my ways always. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen!

Blessings and honor and glory to our King of kings!

[Name]

[Photo: helpguide.org No infringement of copyright intended.]

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Why Is Empathy Important?

Empathy- seeing from viewpoint of the other

Which Side Is Right?

“That’s Why And Z Too!”

Why is empathy important? As a boy, whenever I didn’t want to do what my mother asked, like many kids, I’d ask, “Why?” Mom would inevitably come back with, “That’s Why and Z, too!” In other words, “Do what I say, or else.”  She’d had a hard life  growing up, so whenever I complained, she’d launch into her, “Well your mother had it hard, too!” speech. She’d then recount her story. Mom had little, if any, empathy. She seemed uninterested in my story, or in my feelings. A lot of parents do this, so it’s not abnormal. Except, she did this so much that I learned not to share my deepest thoughts or concerns with her. I didn’t believe she had empathy for me.

Why is Empathy Important?

Empathy, the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes, raises important questions. In my last blog, which you can read here, I recounted a salient experience that formed the beginning of my initial efforts to become a chaplain, later a counselor. Not everyone, however, is in the same position. You may wonder, therefore, why it’s so important to learn how others feel, think, or believe. You may have little or no interest in becoming a chaplain, counselor, or pastor. “Why must I learn this skill of empathy?” you may ask.

Another reason you may feel this is not something I need: Don’t we mostly want to know how we can get our point across? Isn’t it more important to skillfully amass facts, evidence, and logic in order to convince others of the rightness of our opinion?

Before I explain further the how of empathic responses, therefore, I want to explore some important reasons for learning empathy, the ability to put ourselves into the experience of another, the ability to look at the number above from the other person’s perspective. Why do we need empathy? We can see in the drawing that both parties look ridiculous. To avoid misunderstandings, to enhance communication, and to facilitate agreement, therefore, we need to learn empathy.

Doctors Need Empathy

Recently, one of my doctors reported that the medical profession is very interested in the issues of empathy right now. They want to learn how better to listen to their patients’ concerns. Your doctor needs to show empathy. That’s because you need empathy from your doctor. You will no doubt recall an incident when your doctor talked only diagnosis and treatment, with perhaps some history of your disease. He or she omitted any consideration of how your medical problem affected you as a person. They also never asked how hard it was to live with your condition. Or the time, when you had a complicated pregnancy and your doctor told you to go to bed! The impact of your plight eluded him or her. How would you manage your household (cooking, washing, cleaning for children and husband)–from bed? It seemed more comfortable to stay with medical facts, rather than talk with you.

Who Else Needs Empathy?

Why is empathy important for your boss? He has his expectations to accomplish the important task at hand. But he wants to steamroll your objections into the how you will impliment the new policies. He refuses to listen. He threatens you with firing if you persist. No empathy for you.

Your pastor needs to show empathy. If you come with a personal problem, but all he or she says is Bible verses or gives only instructions on prayer, you will leave frustrated. No empathy. Learning empathy is difficult. At least it was for me. In my previous post, I shared my early learning experience. That was not easy; I became painfully aware of my failure to cue in to the other person, and that I was preoccupied about how I perceived the lady’s depression. As a result, I minimized her suffering. This is a common error, at least for beginners.  To read a valuable article on how to develop empathy, click here.

My Recent Failure

I still need to work on empathy. A friend started to share with me about his declining mental ability and even hinted at his eventual death. I changed the subject. So even an experienced and skilled person can allow someone else’s hurt, struggle, or grief, to make us feel uncomfortable (anxious) enough to avoid their tentative message. When we fail at empathy, we fail our friend. I failed my friend.

[Credits: Illustration: See It From My Side: DZone.com                                                      Article: https://dzone.com/articles/agile-transformation-for-non-it-teams]

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“Life Can’t Be THAT Bad!”

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. As a beginning chaplain on a ward for patients with mental disorders, I encountered a woman who stood, while I sat to talk with her. “I want to die,” she cried. Trying to respond to her despair, I stated, “Life can’t be THAT bad!” Although I can’t recall what she said, I do recall her answering me back strongly. I remember also feeling stymied as to how to respond. Our conversation lasted only briefly. I later talked with my chaplain supervisor about my experience. He put her tears into perspective when he said, “The state just took her children away.”

I Had A Lot To Learn

What a jerk! I thought as a new chaplain I was smart, but in reality, of course, I was just ignorant. I didn’t realize how little understanding I had of how a woman crying might be feeling. Rather than inquire about the meaning of her crying, I immediately interpreted her behavior in terms I could understand. Blind to her sorrow, I had minimized her grief.

Such a blunder is easy to fall into. We see someone in deep distress. But our normal strategies for responding don’t seem appropriate. We therefore feel uncomfortable. This is our anxiety. We don’t really know what to say. We could remain silent. Sometimes that’s the best plan. But our friend looks for your response, too. And sometimes we feel compelled to say something. Usually what we say doesn’t help. Out of my awkwardness, I blundered.

Empathy Helps Difficult Conversations

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. But it takes hard work to leave our world in order to enter someone else’s frame of reference. This doesn’t come naturally because we’re mostly concerned with ourselves. Therefore, when someone expresses deep emotion (anger, sadness, joy), we tend to retreat behind our natural protective barrier of our own perception. We may  feel pushed, even attacked.

As a result,  we usually interpret other people’s emotions or behavior according to our perception. This experience, one among many that summer, helped me begin to understand how much skill it takes to get me out of my own frame of reference and into another’s. I had many such experiences, along with talks with supervisors – other chaplains and psychiatrists. They were experienced. I had a lot to learn. Such learning is painful: I felt humiliated, ashamed, and helpless. But it was just such experiences that launched me into my career as a pastor and as a counselor. Talking with supervisors helped me understand how others felt. It wasn’t always important how I felt. My task was to reach out to others with words of healing, to benefit them. This was not normal conversation, let alone discussion or debate. These were my beginnings of learning empathy.

Questions to Ask Yourself

How do you respond to another’s emotional pain? It’s easy to spot someone else’s blunders, but difficult to admit our own. If you are willing, I’d like to offer you some ways to help you learn these lessons. You can begin by asking yourself these questions:

When I hear someone else express hurt, loss, or anger, do I:

  1. Want to learn more?
  2. Try to evade looking at their eyes?
  3. Tell them in no uncertain terms that their emotions are misplaced?
  4. Quote a Bible verse that seems relevant?

Empathy helps us negotiate difficult conversations. If you’d like to learn the skill of empathy, join me in this exploration of what empathy means. If you would do anything other than #1, you need these important tips on learning to listen better. Even if you would do #1 (you think), you may need a quick refresher to learn why, and to improve your responses in relating to others in distress. If reading this and the following blogs on this subject can help you become a better listener, I will feel gratified. I will feel rewarded If I can save you the sense of failure I felt. If I can help you become a better friend, a better listening comforter for friends in grief, and even a better representative of Jesus’ love, I will feel greatly satisfied.

Looking for a place to start? Download my “Top 10 Tips on Grief and Loss,” by clicking:  gordon-grose.ck.page/grieftips

[Credit: Woman crying: Victoria Borodinova Images, Pixabay.com]

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Heart Attachments

Experiential connection with God

Heart Attachments by Bruce J. Hammond

Book Review: Heart Attachments: How What You Love Shapes Your Thinking, Behaviors and Destiny, by Bruce Hammond (2020). eBook and paperback.

Author Hammond wrote Heart Attachments from his and Jean, his wife’s, exploration of their dissatisfaction with their Christian lives. For one thing, “…we didn’t feel valuable unless we fulfilled specific standards,” he writes. “…There was an unsettled feeling,” therefore. Then, he continues, “…we were not accepted by God or people unless we lived up to certain criteria.” “We had so many questions for God,” he acknowledges. Finally, they wanted to know: “How would we positively change our thinking, heal our emotions, rightly align our beliefs, and change our behaviors?” This exploration led into an in-depth, personal, ongoing relationship with the living God.

Heart Attachments Well-written

This book shows good logic, well-crafted writing, and sound use of Scripture. It contains carefully chosen Scripture texts and stories to advance his argument. Using those insights that God gave Hammond and his wife, the author reports, has resulted in “countless people set free, delivered, and restored.” Through Heart Attachments, they share, “What we learned, how Jesus Christ transformed us, and how we’ve seen Him change the lives of others.”

Hammond identifies three “faculties” we possess as persons, spiritual, mental and emotional. These “come to knowledge differently, function uniquely, and have varying strengths and weaknesses,” he says. The goal is to engage each faculty so that they are “fully functioning in their proper boundaries.” This leads to “beautiful clarity, flow, and balance within us.” “Dysfunction exists,” he explains, “when a faculty is overused or underused.” He then takes the reader on a journey to explore each faculty in turn, showing from Scripture how dysfunction develops and how we may achieve a proper balance, neither under or overusing each faculty. The goal is to “Know [God] in a living and personal way,” in which we enjoy “an intimate, transforming relationship” with Him.

Focus on Emotion

One interesting note on Hammond’s view of human personality is his focus on the emotional faculty as primary. This contrasts with many contemporary schools of thought which emphasize primacy of the mental. “Generally speaking,” he says, “things start in the emotions and then move into our thinking.” Regarding how we know (what we know), Hammond says, “The mind knows through reason, the spirit through revelation, and the emotions through relationship.” I would add that the mind also knows through information. But his emphasis on the emotional life of persons needing relationship is a welcome relief from recent overemphasis on cognitive functions. He also deals at length with the crippling emotion of shame.

Heart Attachments: Case Studies

Hammond wisely includes case studies of people, alternating a chapter of instruction with a chapter devoted to the story of someone who illustrates the principles he previously explained. His stories may fail to grasp the reader, however, because they are related in the third person, and without dialogue. The subjects may well be real people and not someone devised as a literary device.  This very question, however, reflects my doubt. The reader must experience the truth of our writing. We cannot simply tell readers our information.

Well-rewarded

Hammond’s Last Chapter: “Practical Considerations,” I loved. It was indeed practical and helpful to show how we can develop that personal, intimate, transforming relationship with God. That’s what we all say we desire. I would have appreciated those practical suggestions throughout, but the reader feels well rewarded for reading the book to the end.

Intellectually stimulating, Heart Attachments is useful for personal and group study. It enables the reader to explore a deeper experience of the Living God through Jesus Christ. The book focuses more on deepening our understanding of what that living relationship with God involves. What the reader now needs is to apply that understanding. We need to learn practical ways to apply the instruction of Heart Attachments to our personal lives. I believe small group sharing would facilitate this.

Heart Attachments is available through Amazon.com                                                 https://www.amazon.com/sk=heart+attachments+bruce+hammond&i=stripbooks&crid=SNXYX4W9M6G2&sprefix=Heart+Attachments%2Caps%2C458&ref=nb_sb_ss_organic-diversity_1_17

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christian Action In Response To Pandemic

What is a Christian action response to the pandemic of Coronavirus? In my previous blog, I shared the perspective of  of three Christian leaders. A second way to explore this issue leads us to ask how, as Christians, do we act? How do we put our faith into deeds? As author Phil Yancey reminds us, the early Christians went into action, caring for the sick in the many Roman pandemics. So, “What is a Christian answer to the Coronavirus?” in action?  As a result of their faith in Jesus, what do Christians do?

Christian Action In Response to Leprosy

Phil Yancey’s experience is instructive. As a journalist, he says,  “I have traveled to some 87 countries, and in most of them you can follow the trail of Christian missionaries by the hospitals, clinics, and orphanages they founded. I wrote books such as Fearfully and Wonderfully with the esteemed leprosy specialist Dr. Paul Brand. Virtually every advance in the understanding and treatment of that disease came from Christian missionaries—not because they were the best physicians and scientists, but because they were the only ones willing to treat that misunderstood and dreaded disease.”

What made Christian caregivers unique? “Following Jesus’ example,” says Yancey, “they risked exposure by reaching out to the leprosy-afflicted.” The history of Christians in crises is that of stepping into the breach.

Christian Action In Response to Pandemic: Online

Christians also have responded on a church-wide level. Unable to meet in person, and with people, scared for their life, Christians have responded by strengthening their online presence. “I think we have an opportunity, actually, to engage at a deeper level,” Judah Smith, lead pastor of Churchome in Seattle and Los Angeles, said. “We’re finding that actually being home, engaging face-to-face is going to lead us actually to an interesting place in faith and I think will change how we worship going forward.”

To “join,” a person has only to download the Churchome app. Once logged in, you are now a “member.” The congregation, as a result of this, has grown by 110 percent. Attendance is up 139 percent, and “Pastor Chat” usage has increased by 40 percent. “This is an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and learn to love your neighbor as yourself,” Smith said. “I think church at home and church in smaller settings is going to be a massive trend going for many, many years.”

An Alternate Christian Response: Doing Less; Serving Better

Esau McCaulley, assistant professor of New Testament at Wheaton College (IL), takes an opposite tack: serving better by doing less. “What did the church do in the year of our Lord 2020,” he asks, “when sickness swept our land? We met in smaller groups, washed our hands and prayed. Unglamorous as this is, it may be the shape of faithfulness in our time.” Our model for these actions spring from the same model as that which motivated the early Christians: Jesus.

“The all-powerful empties himself of power to become a child. Jesus as king does not conquer his enemies through violence, he converts them to his cause by meeting violence with sacrificial love.” “The church’s absence, its literal emptying, can function as a symbol of its trust in God’s ability to meet us regardless of the location.”

The Ultimate Christian Action In Response to Coronavirus Pandemic? Self-Sacrificial Death

Priest sacrifices life for another

Fr. Guiseppi Berardelli

Father Guiseppi Berardelli, 72, diagnosed with COVID-19 virus,  lived at the St. Joseph Retirement Home in Casnigo, Northern Italy. When he heard of a younger man, who suffered from the disease, but who was without a ventilator, he donated his. His parishioners had raised the money to pay for Fr. Berardelli’s life-saving equipment. The priest died March 15, 2020.

“Father Giuseppe Berardelli died as a priest,” said one of the healthcare workers at the Saint Joseph retirement home. “I am profoundly moved by the fact that he, as archpriest of Casnigo, freely renounced his respirator to give it to someone younger than him.” He died also, of course, as a Christian. Reports are that over 50 other priests died, assisting others during their illness. Able to confront their own death in the faith of Christ, these men sacrificed that others might live.

Christians have thought deeply about the reality of tragedy and what should be our response to it. Some Christians have shared thoughts which show profound depth in relating our tenuous life with the Eternal Sovereign God. But that has never been enough.  Jesus’ example in  his care for the sick and dying, has motivated Christians to put saving themselves second to caring for others. For his followers, his death on the cross has removed the sting of death. The impact of Jesus’ life on us is profound. How do you think about the Coronavirus pandemic? What will you do?

[Sources Images- Coronavirus: The Cleveland Clinic.                                                           Father Berardelli: Oratorio Casnigo/Facebook. Breitbart.com  https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/14/opinion/coronavirus-church-close.html https://www.breitbart.com/health/2020/03/24/italian-priest-dies-from-coronavirus-after-giving-up-ventilator-to-another-patient/#                           https://philipyancey.com/living-in-plague-times                                                                                       https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/coronavirus-online-ministry-jesus-questions-search

 

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What Is A Christian Response To Coronavirus Pandemic? I Perspective

A Christian Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Coronavirus

Coronavirus is not our first pandemic on our a planet. In their print Special Edition on the Pandemic, The Epoch Times identifies other pandemics we’ve experienced. Over four years during the 14th century, for example, the Black (bubonic) Plague took the lives of half the people in Europe, between 75 and 200 million. That plague also recurred roughly every decade for 200 years. In the Great Plague of London, in 1665, over one fourth of that city’s people died in 18 months. Other pandemics, such as the Russian Flu (1889), the Spanish Flu (1918), and the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) epidemic (2002) have also afflicted us. What is a Christian response to this Coronavirus pandemic?

A Christian Response to Coronavirus Pandemic

Our home pages and TV’s are filled with statistics and examples of how we can respond. I’m most interested, however, in how we as Christians responded to the current Coronavirus pandemic. What is a Christian perspective? I’ve share my view here and here. In this blog, I bring together the views of a number of Christians who have thought about our current experience from a Christian perspective. These views will give way in a later blog to how Christians have responded, not simply in thinking about the pandemic, but by their actions. How Christians are currently thinking about this experience can help put our lives into perspective through the lens of Scripture. This, in turn should allow our fear to give way to faith.

Our Delusion of Self-Sufficiency

With perhaps the best medical care in the world, with technology at our fingertips, and with the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, we may well convince ourselves that we are self-sufficient. What is a Christian response to our pandemic? Paul David Tripp, author of Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense, reminds of the delusion of human self-sufficiency. Although he lives in Center City, Philadelphia, he observed, “It has become a ghost town: churches have been shut down, businesses have been shut down, restaurants are closed, families are separated from one another, friends can’t gather anymore. It’s an amazing thing, and it reminds us that we were created to be dependent—dependent on the Creator.”

We need each other, and we need God. No one of us can exist apart from others. This should teach us appreciation for the gift of life, the contributions of others to our well-being, both in our past and in our present, and our dependence on God. People are at present protesting the radical steps to shut down our social relations and our economic commerce. Pressure mounts because isolated, our businesses wither away, our social relationships hunger for others, and our souls crave nourishment in corporate worship.

A Christian Response To Suffering

Well-known Christian author Phil Yancey provides another Christian response to our pandemic. He urges us to “follow Jesus through the Gospels and watch his response to a widow who lost her only son, or even a Roman soldier whose servant has fallen ill. Never does he blame the victim or philosophize about the cause. Always, without exception, he responds with compassion, comfort, and healing.” From that model of Jesus’ love for people, his willingness to risk his life to touch even the leper, his self-sacrificial model of giving himself up to the cross to bring redemption from sin and provide forgiveness for the lost, his followers developed into a self-giving people.

Yancey points to sociologist Rodney Stark who, in The Rise of Christianity, wrote that “one reason the church overcame hostility and grew so rapidly within the Roman empire traces back to how Christians responded to pandemics of the day, which probably included bubonic plague and smallpox. When infection spread, Romans fled their cities and towns; Christians stayed behind to nurse and feed not only their relatives but their pagan neighbors. Their proffered comfort drew others to the God of all comfort.”

Our Lost Art of Lamentation

Noted British New Testament scholar and prolific author, N.T Wright presents another Christian response to the Coronavirus pandemic. He points to the Psalms of Lament as a resource for Christians during these times of physical and emotional separation, illness, death and grief. “The point of lament,” he writes, “woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.”

People unable to accept the idea of a personal God, often ask, “Well, what’s your answer, Christian? How can God be present, and love us in this pandemic? How do you explain all this suffering?” In response, Wright says, “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead.” Like many around us, we go into mourning, calling upon God to intervene, calling on Scripture to lead us into the right words to verbalize our grief.

Perspective on Social Distancing

One area in which we now grieve, is the demand we practice social distancing. To defeat this virus, we must remain physically distant, by some accounts I’ve read, at least 13 feet. The virus can be transmitted nearly that far.  What possible good can come from “social distancing”? My wife has already noted the slower pace of life as an advantage. Kenneth Samples in his reflections on this crisis in historical perspective, shares this tid-bit:

“In 1665, following an outbreak of the bubonic plague in England, Cambridge University closed its doors, forcing Newton to return home to Woolsthorpe Manor. While sitting in the garden there one day, he saw an apple fall from a tree, providing him with the inspiration to eventually formulate his law of universal gravitation. Newton later relayed the apple story to William Stukeley, who included it in a book, Memoir of Sir Isaac Newton’s Life, published in 1752.” This reminds us that the providence of God is far more elusive that we think. What looks to be a disaster can turn out, in the end, to bless us.

Not Abandoned

One other Christian response to our coronavirus pandemic comes again from Paul David Tripp. He  reminds us of the potential for erosion to our faith. Reject thoughts of fear, he says, especially toward God. Tripp raises some of those pesky questions skeptics pose. And some we think ourselves. “Fight the lies of the enemy that would whisper into your ear, Where is your God now? What is he doing now? Why isn’t he here? Why doesn’t he answer? The Bible says, God’s near…Do not run away from him. Run to him. Sure, we’re going to wonder, Why? And maybe those questions won’t be fully answered here and now; but again, we know who God is… and we know that this moment points us to…one…who has greater power than us, who has greater control than us…”.

Instead of succumbing to fear, he writes, cultivate gratitude. “One of the most powerful defenses against fear is gratitude.” Where are you in your “lockdown” or “restart” process? If you’re still bewildered, I point you authors who have given our stressful time some thought. They provide us Christian responses to our pandemic. We needn’t remain in crisis mode.

[Image: The Cleveland Clinic www.myclevelandclinic.org Sources: Yang, Catherine, “Past Pandemics and Epidemics,” The Epoch Times, Special Edition, March/April 2020, p 16. https://reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2020/03/31/historical-reflections-on-the-pandemic.                                                    https://www.crossway.org/articles/5-ways-the-covid-19 pandemic-…pel&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-c2cb067094-284436989.  https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/        https://philipyancey.com/living-in-plague-times]

 

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Finding Hope In Despair: Peter’s Story II

Finding Hope in Despair

Despair

In my last blog, I told the story of Peter’s despair. But in the midst of that despair, however, Peter found hope. I want to share now how the happened, how Peter found    hope in despair.

You recall how, in the process of the movers taking away his wife’s belongings after his divorce, Peter saved the hose to his sump pump.  “I made a decision to keep the hose to a sump pump just in case,” Peter says. “It fitted the tailpipe and extended long enough to reach into a car window.” Prepared, Peter’s losses culminated in one particular night of despair. “Suicide became a real possibility,” he says. “I planned a dress rehearsal to see what suicide would be like—if I could do it. All I wanted was to end all the pain. I saw death as a welcome relief.” Continuing to live seemed a lost cause.

How Peter Found Hope in Despair

“I am really, really sorry, Pete.” Surprised, Peter first recognized the neighbor friend who had just opened his garage door. But then, when he saw the two police officers, one on her right, the other on her left, he worried. O Man, I’m going to spend the night in a seventy-two hour hold, he thought.

Although Peter reassured his unexpected visitors he was okay, he wasn’t and returned to his garage once more that evening. Nevertheless, after that dress rehearsal, he says, “I didn’t attempt it again. I decided not to stay in a dark place.” Although not immediately, Peter found his way from despair to hope.

What Peter Learned

In that friend’s intervention, Peter says, he saw “an incredible demonstration of love. She took that risk, and I told her and her husband how significant that was for me. She touched my heart.”

Peter’s story reminds us of the tenuous nature of life. Given the shattering of dreams, the successive losses we can experience, and the circumstances of life which we can’t control, we are all vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, or, as in Peter’s case, an attempt. No one is immune from feelings of despair, but Peter’s story of finding hope in despair also reminds us how important every relationship is, every loved one, every friend, and–every neighbor.

A Good Neighbor

Peter’s neighbor wasn’t just any old neighbor, someone you say “Hi” to and go on about your business. First of all, this neighbor was observant. She knew what was going on in Peter’s life: the divorce, the wife gone, the movers. Then, this woman also cared enough to call the cops. That’s risky. You could get yelled at, or lose a friend calling the police on them. Concerned and, finally, caring; rather, very concerned and very caring.

How observant, concerned, and caring are we? Afraid of being nosy, we often back off something that doesn’t look, feel, or seem right. We play it safe. But Peter’s story also reminds us of potential tragedies that lurk undetected every day. And it reminds us to Be A Good Neighbor. Better yet: God’s instrument to help someone we observe, are concerned, and care about find hope in despair.

[Source: From Chapter 4, Tragedy Transformed: How Job’s Recovery Can Provide Hope For Yours (2015). This book is available on this website and at Amazon.com. From April 15-May 15, 2020, I am offering a Giveaway on Goodreads.com Scroll down to 2nd image of book, click: Enter Giveaway.]

 

 

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