The Gift of Empathy vs. the Cruelty of Envy

by | Feb 17, 2017

It was a tough day to be alone on the farm with aching joints and a bad leg. Cold Canadian winds whipped around the corner of the barn as I hobbled along the old boards looking for the horse who didn’t come for oats with the rest of the dozen or so in the herd. Then about 50 yards away I saw the two year old colt I hadn’t seen at the fence. At first he looked fine, resembling a winter teddy bear with his long haired, frosted coat. But then I realized his swollen leg coated with frozen blood over a wound. I didn’t know what could have caused such a horrible thing but he could hardly bear any weight. As I led him out of the pasture a unique bond between the limping two of us began to form. He seemed to somehow know that I was in pain, just like him. So, when I prayed for him, I prayed for me, too. Suddenly I felt such comradery in my heart with this horse as we proceeded through each freezing, suffering moment together. All through the continual treatments and bandaging he needed over the next 3 weeks in temperatures of -30C and below, Revy’s sweet and patient temperament became evident. The beauty of his spirit showed in the way he welcomed and graciously received the comfort of my presence and care while I was doing my best to ease his pain and suffering. This carried through to his training that started up when he was sound and by the next Spring he was my most responsive and fun horse to ride.

Beloved, in this wonderfully crafted chapter of Romans we have the bounds and bonds of a seamless healthy community of relationships with empathy, the flow of feeling with each other holding us together in this glue of verse 15.

Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

1 Corinthians 12 further exhorts that there should be no schism in the body of Christ, but “that the members should have the same care, one for another”. In other words, know how it feels or image how it would feel to be the other person and feel it with them!

The nature of envy, however, is just the opposite. Envy withholds even the basics of friendship and connection. Instead of feeling what you feel, a spirit of envy says, “You do badly and I’ll laugh and celebrate; do good and I’ll be green”. It is the division of the body of Christ and serves only to rob one’s own soul! How? By limiting the capacity to feel the heights of wonder and the depths of comfort God intends for us to know as givers of ourselves to emotionally be in community with believers!

In contrast to envy, Romans 12:15 exhorts us to “rejoice with those who do rejoice, and weep with those who weep”. The connectivity of the body of Jesus Christ is the gift of empathy. 1 Corinthians 12:26 reminds us that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer and when one member rejoices, we all rejoice. Empathy is simply the act of being willing to enter ourselves into another’s experience, no matter the cost to ourselves! So whether it is celebrating when they’re honoured or jumping down into the trenches alongside them in their loss and pain, empathy does unconditional, no expectations kind of love! By its very presence, empathy gives!

I love that even though Jesus knew what miracle was stirring in Him outside the tomb of Lazarus, He didn’t just say, “stop your crying and wait 20 minutes”. Rather, He let His tears flow in an outward expression of the mercy and compassion of God over the grief of Lazarus’ sisters. I don’t think they would have ever forgotten that tender image of Jesus weeping. Perhaps the second time he died they were comforted knowing how their Lord broke down and wept with them.

How do we really involve our hearts and give our emotions to the often mind bending sorrow of suffering saints without burning out? Won’t it cost?! Even take its toll on how I feel?!

When I was memorizing a poem for an oratory performance, I didn’t know the profound effect ​of ​the “non-receiving” message​ it​ sent till one day I began to live by it: “O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console…”
But I would beg you in light of my personal experience to understand that it is in receiving comfort of the Lord most of all and from His servants for the needs of our own broken existence that we come to trust and in that have something of tested worth to reach the pain of another’s journey.

So in this light can we purpose together to be expert, most humble receivers from God and others for the blessing and help and healing and joy of our own hearts so we can properly and wonderfully soothe the fever of loss and unrelenting hardship in the longing, and often destitute of comfort, hearts?

As we are willing to get in the trenches with others, God Himself promises to be in the trenches with us (Psalm 18:25). On top of that, by rejoicing with others we increase our capacity for joy exponentially.

In living aware and connected to what is going on in the hearts of other members of the body, we have the wonder of rich and meaningful relationships where God promises to meet us.

I named that Bay colt “Revy” after a prayer of mine – revival! I just wonder in the presence of the Lord sometimes how much beautifying, how much healing, how much “glory come down” we would experience as God’s people by living this mercy! Could we possibly enjoy more of revival, of God drawing near, by this celebrating highs with our joy and hugging the lows of our fellow body members with our tears?! Irrespective of the “status” of that part of the body, could we be found doing this kind of love, be found bearing this emotional burden and so FULFILL the law of Christ?!

Oh Lord, we cry out to You to revive the work of mercy in us for the beauty of Your church and for the purposes of Your body in this world to be accomplished! Give us rejoicing as we look into Your face in the shalom days of some and the necessary weeping into the heartbreaking sorrow of others.​

Janny M.


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