Practice and Grow
The foremost message in my mind this week has been “trust the process” (Burkhart, 2020). I have held on to that phrase when my confidence level has wained. The takeaways that I had to write each day was probably the best assignment I could have had. I think I got more out of the day as a whole because of this particular assignment. The pre-Residency reflections about my expectations seemed to be a bit short-sighted for what actually happened. I must admit that I did not know what to expect. There were three major themes that surfaced and they had nothing to do with what I wrote in my pre-Residency reflection paper. My abilities and confidence grew having practiced summarizing and rephrasing, my understanding of multiculturalism in the context of counseling broadened, and my acceptance of self-care in my life deepened.
The sessions we spent with our partner and Residency 3 feedback-giver caused me to see how the opening and closing of a session should go and how summarizing and rephrasing is supposed to look like and sound like. The feedback that LaKeisha D. Howard gave us was thorough and valuable. She pointed out that I need to watch my “double questioning” and also when summarizing not to say “sounds like” too much or it might be considered assuming the client’s situations and thought process. She made a very important statement to us when she said, “It is not what I want for my client, but what they want for themselves” (July 25, 2020). That made so much sense to me and gave me a shift in my outlook in a counseling career. Summarizing and rephrasing has not been a skill I have been confident in, but the nudges in the right direction and examples given to me in the role play groups has been very encouraging. I came across this statement by Eryılmaz and Mutlu, “The most important benefit for counselor trainees is the realization that the counseling process progresses gradually” (2017) which echoes what Dr. Burkhurt told us with “trust the process” (2020).
The day we focused on multicultural issues happened to coincide with some real world issues in my personal life. While I feel genuine love for people of different ethnic backgrounds, I was faced with a realization that I myself must look like a “Karen” according to the dictionary.com‘s slang word of the day definition of the physical aspect of the term “Karen”. I feel like others do not want to listen to my story because of how I look. I do not blame them because I have done the same to others who look and act like “Karens” themselves. Funny how the two cohorts in my state also happen to be middle-aged white women. Culture does not just have to do with different ethnicities but with a variety of upbringings, surroundings, and individual culture. I read an article from the Journal of Psychology & Theology calledIntegration, multicultural counseling, and social justice. I found that one aspect of prejudice is actually because a person is a Christian. Hook and Davis write,
“the values of Christianity are often linked with the values of the United States. Being a Christian in the United States may afford its followers an array of privileges, some that Christians may not be aware of. It is challenging to change social structures when one benefits from the status quo” (2012).
It had not occurred to me that Christians might not want societal change because it would mean they would have less privilege. How sad. Hook and Davis continue, “The problem is that holding our convictions so strongly that we cannot consider other perspectives makes connection and dialogue difficult….Holding a conviction with humility invites others to engage and dialogue. Holding a conviction with humility increases empathy and concern for the other” (2012). I believe this statement supports the words and meaning in Dr. Sweeting’s keynote speech (July 27, 2020) when he encouraged us to speak with grace and truth and to be wise.
Before this week, I had not much regard for self-care, nor did I know how to treat myself with grace and friendship. I had always seen self-care more like self-esteem. Nelson et al. (2018), in their article, helped me to differentiate between the two.
“By its very construct, to bolster self-esteem an individual must make comparisons and rely on a particular outcome (e.g., satisfactory grades). There are limited amounts of self-esteem to be achieved based on the successful endeavors one engages in. To raise self-esteem, one needs to raise his or her skills in the areas of comparison. Self-compassion makes no such stipulations. Self-compassion focuses on accepting ourselves for the skills, abilities, and traits that we already possess and not allowing failures to define our worth” (2018).
This entire article was encouraging to read and also reinforced the sessions given by Dr. Wiggins and Dr. Cline. One thought that really stood out in this article was a question I could ask myself, which is “Are you kind to yourself? Do you talk to yourself like you would to a friend?” The idea of mindfulness was also clarified. I thought it was a spiritual, mystical experience steeped in Hindu tradition, but Nelson et al. challenged my thinking by defining mindfulness as “a nonjudgmental state where we simply observe what is going on inside of us” (2018). I need to research more about self-care and how it will look in my life on an ongoing basis.
Romans 12:6-8 (NIV) says,
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.”
I know that God has given me gifts, but also I need to practice them and grow in them constantly. I have learned to ask better questions and have more confidence with summarizing and rephrasing. I was challenged to a higher thinking of multicultural in context of counseling and learning where my own privilege and barriers to relationships stand. At the pinnacle of all that I have learned, I have grown in understanding of how self-care works and looks like in my everyday life.
Burkhart, R., Wiggins, E., Cline, J., (2020, July 23-27). Residency 1 [Conference sessions]. Lakewood, CO, United States.
Eryılmaz, A., & Mutlu, T. (2017). Developing the Four-Stage Supervision Model for Counselor Trainees. Educational Sciences: Theory & Practice, 17(2), 597–629. https://doi.org/10.12738/estp.2017.2.2253
Hook, J. N., & Davis, D. E. (2012). Integration, multicultural counseling, and social justice. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 40(2), 102–106.
Howard, K.D. (2020, July 23-27) Residency 1 [Role Play Group]. Lakewood, CO, United States.
Nelson, J. R., Hall, B. S., Anderson, J. L., Birtles, C., & Hemming, L. (2018). Self-Compassion as Self-Care: A Simple and Effective Tool for Counselor Educators and Counseling Students. Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, 13(1), 121–133. https://doi.org/10.1080/15401383.2017.1328292
Sweeting, D.W. (2020, July 23-27). Residency 1 [Keynote Address]. Lakewood, CO, United States.
from Nov 21, 2020
The following essay was submitted on date shown and reposted on my blog today after it was graded and my class ended.
Tanya M. Reddin
Colorado Christian University
Dr. Trigg Even
March 29, 2020
Jadis, the Witch
For this assignment, I chose a fictional character that is not even human. I wanted to use a character that I do not think would or could change. Her very nature is so evil that change does not seem possible, and in the series which she is written, she never does change. She dies instead of repenting. The death seems just and right after reading all that we know about her character. During my case study, I debated whether I would have empathy for this individual.
An Evil Character
Jadis is a character in The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis (1995) that I do not like. She is vile, evil, and power-hungry. She makes people do what she wants them to do, and she ignores those she cannot use (1995, p.72). She went on a rampage through London stealing and injuring innocent people (1995, p. 88). Once she was in Narnia, Jadis climbed the wall and stole an apple that would give her the desires she wanted, but because of her nature, she would suffer in misery. She would have strength and unending days, but she would have that with an evil heart (1995, p.174).
Difficult to Empathize
Jadis does not care about others. She only uses others to get what she wants. She uses her power to lord it over others whether they are innocent or evil. She hates the song and the Singer that begins a new world (1995, p.101-102). I have no hope she would change even faced with the truth of who she is and what she has become. I see her having similar attributes as those who have been placed in solitary confinement as described by Perry & Szalavitz:
“[They have] an impaired sense of identity; hypersensitivity to stimuli; cognitive dysfunction (confusion, memory loss, rumination); irritability, anger, aggression, and/or rage; other-directed violence, such as stabbings, attacks on staff, property destruction, and collective violence; … (2011, chapter 2, section 5).”
Jadis has been in Charn and under a spell so that she will not awaken until Digory bangs a certain bell (1995, p. 54, and in her sleep, she has not been around people. Her continuing transgressions as she travels with Polly and Digory to earth and how she treats Aunt Letty signifies her intent on evil without any regard to social protocol. Readers of The Magician’s Nephew can see that Jadis has no intent on doing the right thing ever, and she also shows no remorse or guilt or shame (Decety & Ickes, 2009, p. 147).
Strategies for Empathy
If I were the only one available to help Jadis, I may be able to help like Bruce, the counselor helping Jeremy and his family, by using “small steps—to give him the tiny doses of stress and then relief his system needed to ‘practice’ and, ultimately, to mature” (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011, chapter 2, section 6). Also, I would ask her what her motivations for wanting to get through this personal crisis. Let’s say her personal crisis was knowing Aslan was returning, which is how the story continues in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1970, p. 94). I would encourage her to find alternate ways to treat people respectfully to still get what she wants without hurting innocent people. From Terrell’s story (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011), I would investigate the possibilities of Jadis finding a new social family that would be a positive support for her (chapter 9, section 2). Also, taking from the example of Jesus with the woman at the well, I would ask questions to see if she could be ready to admit truth (John 4:7-26, NIV).
Other resources that I may need to employ would probably need to be someone with a good deal of power, yet also an empathetic nature, to show or even shock Jadis into listening. This someone would have to carry the weight of understanding and power within himself, much as Aslan did in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1970, p. 140). I suggest a team of strong-minded people who are also knowledgeable in the Scriptures to work with her. I see that the Sword in the Armor of God would need to be wielded with skill (Ephesians 6:17).
Knowing that Jadis cares for others very little makes me wonder if I could elicit change at all. Giving her my empathy may bring about a flicker of hope that her life could change. It seems like it would take much work, dedication, and a long time to show her that I am truly concerned for her situation.
Coming from a biblical worldview, I would address issues only in the power of God’s love. In the case of Jadis and her heinous sins, I am not sure there is any other hope than the Lord working a miracle in her heart. I will consider what Scripture says about right and wrong while encouraging Jadis to see the difference between the two and how it might affect her behavior. Because I know that no one is beyond the love of God, I would not give up hope that she could change. (I Corinthians 13:6-7, NIV)
I decided upon a character that proved to be difficult to give empathy. This is most likely due to her power, strength, and selfishness. The moral issues of Jadis are problems I can relate to in smaller ways, and yet I consider how difficult it is for others to have empathy with me when I am wrapped up in my own selfishness. I can certainly understand her desires, and therefore I can empathize. For most humans, I can look at them as being in the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27, NIV) and grapple with the moral issues in light of Scripture.
Decety, J., & Ickes, W. (Eds.). (2009). The Social Neuroscience of Empathy. doi: https://
Lewis, C. S. (1970). The lion, the witch and the wardrobe: a story for children. New York:
Lewis, C. S. (1995). The magician’s nephew. New York: Scholastic.
Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. D. (2011). Born for love: why empathy is essential – and
endangered. doi: https://platform.virdocs.com/r/s/0/doc/121593/sp/5872293/mi/
Reposted after submitting in my Spiritual Formation class in Jan 2020
I planned my spiritual retreat time for a place called Alum Cove Natural Area. It was a two hour drive from my house. Turning off the radio and phone, I drove in silence except for the noise of the car’s engine. I stopped at two quiet, solitary places along the way to read the prayers in Face to Face. I followed the four-stage process of lectio divina as described by Dr. Parks (February 6, 2020) while I sat in my car reading the Scripture. As I drove, I followed the second practice Dr. Parks described with a centering prayer (February 6, 2020). Whenever I became distracted, I would refocus by saying “Immanuel” or “Jesus.” I was amazed at how this simple action refocused me to just being with the Lord even though I was driving.
It had snowed a few days before, and there was still snow on the ground along the winding highway. Once I arrived at Alum Cove, I threw on my backpack, picked up my hiking stick, and set out along the trail. I saw large icicles hanging off the bluffs. The rocks were slippery with ice, but the temperature was warm enough to be melting everything. This meant that the waterfalls were flowing, the creek was moving, and the icicles were beginning to crash down. It was more noisy than I expected. It was all so beautiful, and I desperately wanted to grab my phone and take pictures, but I stopped myself. The scenery was meant to be a gift from God to me only. The first feature that I arrived at was the natural bridge that was about 15 feet across and 50 feet long and 75 feet high. The railing on either side of the bridge provided a small amount of comfort as I crossed the slippery rock bridge. The benches along the trail gave me a place to sit, have a snack, and meditate on a passage.
I thought I had gone to a solitary place since it was early on a Friday. However I did notice footprints in the snow, so someone had already been there that morning, but I never saw the person who had left the footprints. Towards the end of my loop hike, three young women came along the trail. I had hoped they would have gone on the trail the other way, the way that is more natural, but they turned and went right by me as I sat and read on one of the benches. I did not want to have any interaction with anyone. I was really enjoying my solitude. They passed with a polite “hi” and turned to go down the steep, rocky, icy trail I had just climbed up. One of them accidentally slipped. Her two friends were right next to her and helped her up. She was okay, and they kept going. I quickly packed up my backpack and hiked up the trail to my car.
During this retreat time, I focused on God being my Rock (I Samuel 2:2). I meditated on His holiness and faithfulness, and that He is perfect and just (Deuteronomy 32:4). The Scriptures say that the earth is full of God’s lovingkindness (Psalm 33:4-5). When I saw the waterfalls and the snow and the bluffs and bare trees, my eyes were reawakened to His lovingkindness. He also sees my heart and has searched me and knows me. He scrutinizes the path I am taking, and He understands my thoughts from afar (Psalm 139:1-4). During my hike, I sat under immense, tangible rocks for protection from the falling icicles and melting snow. God as my Rock, the Rock, impressed upon me that He is even bigger than the ones that surrounded me. Also God knows the path I take in life, and when I get off the established trail, He directs me back to the correct path. During this hike, I had taken the wrong path and followed the bluff line and crossed the creek above the waterfall. Soon, I was jumping over fallen trees and the path was becoming difficult to navigate. I thought I must not be on the trail anymore and prayed to get back to the right path. I retraced my steps to the place I had stopped to look up at the bluffs and icicles and saw that the trail had turned near that spot. Hiking and also getting lost is similar to my walk with the Lord. Whenever I get off track, He knows where I am even if I do not. He guides me back to that place of reliance on Him and on the path in which I need to be.
The works I focused on were God coming as Jesus Immanuel “God with us” (Matthew 1:23). I contemplated the prophetic verses about Jesus being the Shoot from the stump of Jesse, and that this Branch would bear fruit (Isaiah 11:1). Along the hike, I passed many stumps. The people who care for this recreation area used a chainsaw to move trees from the trail, and they left so many stumps. Some of the stumps had live branches coming out of them. I was reminded how Jesus came from the Jewish people to save the people of the world. He will have the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and the Spirit of counsel and power (Isaiah 11:2).
My prayer as I sat on one of the benches was from Month 1 Day 14 (1997) “You, O Lord my God, want me to fear You, to walk in all Your ways, to love You and to serve You, O Lord my God, with all my heart and with all my soul. (Deuteronomy 10:12) I want to know You, O God, and serve You with a whole heart and with a willing mind; for You search my heart and understand every motive behind my thoughts. (I Chronicles 28:9).” Month 1 Day 15 (1997) had, “I will exult in You, Lord; I will rejoice in You, O God of my salvation. You, Lord God, are my strength; You make my feet like the feet of a deer and enable me to go on the heights (Habakkuk 3:18-19).” Whatever path the Lord takes me down, I truly want to be dedicated to Him for He is my strength.
I also want to have integrity so that those who are seeking the Lord and trusting Him will not become discouraged and dishonored because of me (Month 1 Day 14, 1997). Humility and wisdom go together, and the proud will be brought low (Month 1 Day 16, 1997, Proverbs 11:2). I prayed over that in my life because I would like to be considered as a wise person, but being broken from pride is a scary prayer. Yet praying for humility is the right thing to do if I want to be wise.
The incident with the three young ladies that came along the trail spoke to me. I felt the Lord showing this particular passage to me after I got up and left. It is from Month 1 Day 16 (1997),
“Is this not the fast You have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the cords of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free and break every yoke? Is it not to share our food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter; When we see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from our own flesh? Then our light will break forth like the dawn, and our healing will quickly appear, and our righteousness will go before us; Your glory, O Lord, will be our rear guard. The we will call, and You will answer; We will cry, and You will say, “Here I am.” If we put away the yoke from our midst, the pointing of the finger and malicious talk, and if we extend our souls to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then our light will rise in the darkness, and our gloom will become like the noonday. (Isaiah 58:6-10) I must help the weak and remember Your words, Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35).”
I have been struggling to know where I need healing. The day before I left for my spiritual retreat, my prayer/mentor/friend challenged me by having me ask myself where is it that I get passionate or upset when something happens and what is my automatic reaction. This may be where I can start to find the places I need healing. So when those girls came by me, ME, when they clearly should have gone on the trail the other way, and one of them tripped, I should have been compassionate. Instead, I just wanted to do my assignment as prescribed, in solitude, but instead I found that here is where my healing needs to be. It is in my relationship with others. These verses are shouting this idea to my heart and soul.
Coming home and processing how the retreat went and what I have learned, I feel that I have only scratched the surface of what I need to do to allow the Lord to use me and be ready for a role in others’ lives that can truly help them from a place of compassion. I reread the Nouwen chapter on Solitude. In the Conclusion, he says, “It is in this solitude that we become compassionate people, deeply aware of our solidarity in brokenness with all of humanity and ready to reach out to anyone in need” (2003). He urges us to have the goal of seeking God, not people, and also to go back into solitude not alone, but with others we are caring for in our ministry (2003). I believe I am being directed to first have compassion on others and then take them with me to seek God in quiet places so they, too, can hear the Word of God.
Boa, K. (1997). Face to face: Praying through the scriptures for spiritual growth.
Nouwen, H. J. (2003). The way of the heart: Connecting with God through prayer, wisdom, and
R. Parks. Thursday, February 6, 2020, [Blackboard Discussion Session 5 Silence and solitude,
Triad 1 to Jessica Black] CSL-515-ONA7-SP20: Spiritual Formation Class. Retrieved
This was submitted for a grade, and I am reposting it here on my personal blog page. It is an excerpt of the final paper required.
Tanya M. Reddin
Colorado Christian University
Dr. Trigg Even
April 24, 2020
My Personal Empathy Journey
From the very first mention of an Empathy Training class, I had mixed emotions. I kept finding myself somewhere between fearful and doubtful, as if I could be trained to have empathy. I do not consider myself as someone who naturally has empathy. I have often been rejected after vulnerable conversations (Welsh, n.d.) and often feel as if a wall is built up around my emotions. The only shift or crack in this wall has to do with the loss of my spouse. From that moment in time, I have been able to know the hurt of losing a loved one and all the various facets of dealing with life since then. I have hope that I can indeed help others and sit with them or walk with them during dark times. Focusing on Scripture has provided the best comfort for me during the days after losing my spouse. During the last seven weeks in this class, I have learned much about empathy and the command to love others. My upbringing and my grief experience have an impact in my capacity for empathy. Most significantly I found that having empathy is not only possible, but I can actually choose it in difficult circumstances, and I can grow in my abilities to have empathy.
The Difference Faith Makes
My faith has made a difference in understanding empathy because I know God loves me and that He is with me. I am comforted by the Holy Spirit in every way, and I lack nothing. My faith has given me a hope that says His promises will all come true and to just wait for Him. Because of this gift of faith, my empathy towards others can be continually growing. I do feel that I have a long way to go before I can truly have empathy for others. My prayer right now is that I could have more empathy and that I would understand it better. During the weeks of this course, I believe this goal was accomplished.
I honestly believed the Lord has been working in my life to bring the practice of empathy in my life over the years I have been married. Early in my marriage I remember praying for “compassion” and around that time, my good friend’s husband died from an aorta rupture. She went through so much, and she held on to the Lord. I tried to be there for her, and even though we got together, we did not do very many things together anymore. I just did not know what it was like to be widowed. She remarried 15 years later and became a missionary in Honduras. She was the first person I went to see after my husband passed away. I felt that if anyone could offer empathy it would be her. It was a good visit, and I’m glad I went to see her. When Greg passed away, other people said uncomfortable things and things that made me angry and hurt and ashamed. I learned what should and should not be said to widows at least from my own point-of-view. Now I know better than to say the “at least” statements and trying to put a silver-lining on hard situations as described by Brown (2013).
My children are a special case of my development in empathy. For the most part, I am a tough mom. I would not consider minor injuries a thing to get upset about; in fact, I believe it is best to remain calm during times when someone is hurt. However, I do feel their hurt when they are neglected by friends or laughed at by others. I do not always respond how I should. I go back and forth from getting involved or staying away from the situation and letting them work it out. Some of my children say they do feel sad when others feel sad. My youngest son will come up to me during a song at church and look at my face to see if I am sad, and he will put a hand on my shoulder if he thinks I am sad. He usually gets it right too. He is a good example to me of empathy.
My classmates and I took an empathy test during the second week. My results from the online Empathy Test were labeled “medium,” at 56%. The questions asked of me were not ones I typically ask myself. I wish they had a wider selection of options, like on a scale of one to five, instead of just three choices. For example, when I hear or see a baby crying, I am not indifferent or annoyed, but I am not particularly sad or worried either. Most of my answers were “sometimes” because there are times when I do feel sad for people, but it is not the majority of the time. My guess is that if the choices where on a larger scale, my percentage would actually be lower.
If I have any empathy skills, it will be because I know what it is like to lose a spouse and best friend. I have only gained this over the last four years, because, before that, my life had not seen much trouble. After experiencing the cancer diagnosis and his slow fade and, ultimately, my widowhood, I got to endure the best efforts of well-meaning people who tried their hardest to empathize. Looking towards the future, I intend to grow in empathy even more than I gained in the last four years. I hope to be able to empathize with happy people too—people who can celebrate 25 years of marriage or more. This may be more difficult to do than empathize with people who are depressed. I hope to grow in empathy in all forms of emotions. I believe the Lord has called me to a higher place of loving others—a command that I have fought against internally for too long.
My Empathy Test Results
Even though the empathy test reflected a score of 56%, it does not go deep enough to reflect the kinds of empathy I embrace more easily than others. I hope to develop the empathy skill of being able to sense a person’s emotion by looking at them and reflecting even a “pale comparison” to the emotion they may be having (Decety & Ickes, 2009). I would like to see myself grow in all areas of empathy—rejoicing when others are rejoicing and mourning when others are mourning (Romans 12:15, ESV). I would like to be able to listen to another’s emotion without thinking about what I would do if I were having that particular emotion. I would like to step beyond sympathy.
Ready to Give Empathy
Because of my widow status, I have acute empathy for this segment of our population. I would also put a qualifier in this segment as those who are widowed with children still living at home. I could offer deep understanding even more so if the widowed with children had their spouse die because of cancer. I’ve had empathy for those whose family member has died from cancer too. I also have a heart for people serving in ministry in various capacities whether a pastor, a pastor’s wife, or missionary families especially the single women serving as missionaries. I have listened and stood with so many in this field that I just want to be available to them and help them in encouragement and true friendship. I have a natural empathy for senior adults; I do not know why, but I just like them. I like their experiences and their stories of their life.
More Difficult to Have Empathy
Those for whom empathy might become a struggle would be those who have lost a mother or grandmother. The loss of nurture escapes me. Also, I may not have much empathy for struggling marriages because mine was really good, and it is hard for me to understand a perspective of someone who refuses to forgive a spouse. I would give anything to have mine back. In addition to the groups mentioned, those with addiction or physical/sexual abuse are not people I come into contact with normally, so I am not sure if I would be able to offer anyone helpful counsel. I am willing to learn though.
Correlation of the Matthew Passages
Both Matthew 5 and Matthew 7 are the words of Jesus to his followers. Both passages are giving instruction on how to relate to others and so fulfill the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Both passages put the follower with someone who is struggling with unknown issues. In Matthew 5, if I am counseling with someone who is struggling with certain issues and perhaps are demanding of me in various ways, I can be there with them, walk with them, feel their pain, do things I would rather not, and give of myself in ways that show the love of God. In Matthew 7, if I am counseling with someone who is struggling with a certain issue, I can find all the things wrong with them and what they have done. I can tell them how they can change, and I can give them Bible verses to make it all better, but I will have left them disappointed, judged, and not willing to share. I would not have led a brother closer to Christ, and I would not have followed the command to love others. As I grow in empathy, may I adopt the practices that Jesus lays out in these passages. May I be a person that sees someone struggling and using their words to hurt and help them over and above their demands. I should seek to understand emotions and actions from their point-of-view. At the same time, for me to grow in empathy, I should walk with them through issues without judgment and reflect on my own issues before saying anything. I should be ready to repent of my sins before I ever look at someone else’s sins and offer grace by listening.
Empathy and Grace
Grace is a gift. It cannot be earned or bought. The Lord gives grace by giving His children what they do not deserve, first and foremost, salvation. As a human, made in the image of God, I can also give grace, a gift that is not deserved. Empathy given by one human to another demonstrates this gift. It is the attitude behind grace. For example, if a hostess is considered gracious, she will open her home and offer food and drink. She does this because she feels for another, and whether consciously or not, she has sacrificed her personal possessions for the benefit of another. God has been the most gracious One of all. He has provided salvation through His Son, at great cost to Himself for the benefit of mere humans. He has put Himself in our place and became human and took on flesh to provide eternal life for us (John 1:14, Philippians 2:8, ESV).
Grace in a Fallen World
Not only is it possible for human beings to practice Christ-like grace, I would go another step and say it is required. The Lord commands us as His followers to love one another. This would entail even loving our enemies (Matthew 5:44, ESV). This is undeserved favor or kindness, and Christ is not only our example of how to do this, He has accomplished this grace-giving through His death as payment for our sins. While we His enemies, He brought us to Himself (Romans 5:10, ESV). Because He forgave such a great debt, we would do a greater evil in not forgiving others who have wronged us (Matthew 18:27-35, ESV). This forgiveness is an aspect of grace that benefits both the giver and receiver and is required of all Christ-followers.
Grace Towards Others
Real life issues that would be difficult to be gracious to others would include the way a person’s parents treated him (e.g. neglect). Perhaps it would be hard to be gracious to others because of how relatives treat a person (e.g. abuse). Another real-life issue that would make graciousness difficult would be if one of the Ten Commandments were violated against a person or their family members. I imagine that forgiving a murderer or an adulterer would only be possible if the Lord graced a person with the ability to forgive. Also showing grace and forgiveness if that person is unrepentant would be extremely challenging. Relationships are messy, and people do not always show love when it is needed. Grace in the form of forgiveness and love, even though they may be extremely difficult to reconcile in your mind, must still be a Christian’s goal and is achievable with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Legal issues should be decided on in the proper way, whether by police, judge, or lawyer. Forgiveness and offering grace are still acceptable on a personal level, but legally we must follow proper channels of justice. A person can forgive and at the same time follow through with consequences. God is the ultimate judge, and while sometimes rulings do not always give the correct punishment for an offense, I see that as God’s hand of justice or mercy being shown.
Grace from my Children
Personally, I have experienced grace from my children. I do not deserve to continue to love them and care for them because I can be too harsh towards them. However, they have extended grace to me. Sometimes I have asked for forgiveness for my words and sometimes I haven’t, yet they can still approach me and say, “That hurt, but I forgive you.” This is grace.
Lessons from Born to Love (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011)
Danny’s story taught me that “trust and consistency are clearly important for the development of empathy and morality” (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011, Chapter 5, Section 3, para. 1). This idea that a counselor and client would need to have a trusting and communicating relationship to form empathetic ties seems simple, and yet I have not considered the impact it would have in healing and moving forward. In acquiring the skill to be empathetic, I want others to know that I am truthful in my concern for them. As a counselor, I would keep a foundation of consistent truth to have as a professional goal in hopes of drawing clients to seek truth too.
In Alyson’s story, I learned that too much empathy could be a disadvantage making one more vulnerable to peer pressure (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011, Chapter 8, Section 4, para. 7). Following another group of individuals shows a person they may have empathy, but if the influences are pointing in the wrong direction, trouble will not be far away. If I had a client that seemed to try to fit what everyone else wanted him/her to do, my encouragement would be find ways to have positive peer pressure instead of fighting the natural tendencies of a person who is likely to follow the crowd.
In Terrell’s story, I learned that we all must find ways to deal with ordinary stress, and that this will help break an escalating cycle of fear and threats and high stress situations (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011, Chapter 9, Section 1, para. 19). In a counseling situation, not only would I personally need to monitor my own stress levels, but I would also want to share how that is done for my client. These three stories had me reflecting on counseling relationships and considering how to handle and think through a number of different personal stories.
In addition to the personal stories in a counseling relationship, I also learned from the example of Trinity in Born to Love. Her story concludes that suffering can produce more empathy. Also connecting with others who have empathy, as the empathetic Myrna showed Trinity, can increase the care and concern towards others that are not necessarily related and produce a more empathetic person (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011). In a counseling role, the grief I have experienced has only increased my understanding and empathy towards others who have experienced the same. During my darkest days, I gravitated towards those that showed true empathy and did not preach to me or tell me what I ought to do. I have continued to seek the same attitude in all my relationships, growing in empathy and love toward others.
Growth in Empathy
Of all that I am internalizing and learning, empathy through humility because of who God is and what Jesus has done for me has been the most profound. I still have so far to go in following the command to love one another. I believe in the connection of loving others and empathy, and this study has given me the tools for which I have been searching for many years. I can see that God is shining a spotlight on what it means to love others. He has shown His love for the humans He created through grace and mercy and humility. With each of these characteristics, I am able to grow in the ability to have empathy for others.
The biblical concept of humility is explained in the Encyclopedia of the Bible as “not the inverted conceit which disguises itself as lowliness” but is the correct understanding of who you are and you “gratefully acknowledge[s] God’s sovereign bestowal of gifts and His sovereign enablement in service” (n.d.). This description of humility is given in correlation to the Philippians 2 passage where Paul tells the Philippian believers to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3, ESV). That is, if I know and believe what God has done for me, I should be thankful. As God has given me, so I can give to others. What I can give them is empathy and love without condition and to consider them more important than myself. As difficult as it may be, I can and should respond with compassion to anyone, even those in the disadvantaged population. This is not because I have this great and wonderful characteristic in myself, but only because He has told me who I am, and I realize what my own state would be without Him.
Lack of Humility
Despite the direction to show compassion, I do not always love others as I should even though I believe that Jesus has paid my sin debt with His own blood. I know that I am called to love others with the love of Christ, and yet my pride gets in the way. I do look to my own interests all the time. I do want to grasp the glory and attention that others get to have. I fail to listen thoroughly to others because I have my own thoughts and goals. The ability to listen to others is a skill I feel that I am always working to improve. God has given me plenty of opportunity to practice listening and subsequently empathy in most all of my relationships of late. I believe I am headed in the right direction, but every step is a step over or around my pride.
A Spiritual Crisis of Grief
Even though we all deal with pride at some level, we all still suffer in different ways. A spiritual crisis, such as grief, might also be complicated by unanswered prayer. In my example client, her situation of losing her husband even after praying for healing is a perspective that I understand precisely. My made-up client’s story begins with a wonderful marriage to a kind and godly man. They have young children, and they attend a small, family-friendly church in which they have many close friends. One August afternoon, they get back a biopsy report that says the husband does have cancer. The client is at the house of a friend and church small group is about to begin. With just hearing this diagnosis, the church friends gather for prayer. After a year of praying and pleading and watching for a miracle, the husband dies.
Everyone in the church is sad; everyone in the church tries to help. However, all help is not helpful. Who will my client listen to and who will she avoid? When she comes in to see me, my questions will be focused on understanding her and all that she has lost. So, I will ask, “Tell me more about your husband. What was he like? What sort of things did you do together?” Listening for understanding will be the first priority to me. I want to be someone she could trust. If she began to share uncomfortable stories that made her unload anger at God for not healing her husband, I would still just listen for the most part. I might ask about her heart and ways she could be healed and if she knew of any Scripture that addressed unanswered prayer. I would ask about forgiveness and her views of the nature of God. If she had the wrong view about who God is and why this happened, I would keep my opinion to myself unless she asked. I want her to realize and figure out what God is teaching her, so she hears it in her heart, but I would try very hard to really hear her and understand her. Because her relationship to her husband is so personal, she hasn’t just lost the husband/wife relationship, she has lost this particular person. Those who know her husband can empathize in one way, and those who have lost a spouse can empathize in an entirely different way. Nobody completely can understand.
Not fully listening can keep someone from understanding my client’s situation. Asking questions that put her on the defensive is judgmental and would be the cause of more heartache. Not communicating because it is too hard for a person to empathize with my client will increase her loneliness. Giving trite answers to life’s difficult quandaries is just frustrating. Explaining away the loss in Christian-ese or questioning the faith of the client is judgmental and infuriating. Short of taking the blame oneself for not praying hard enough, one should not question the faith of the widow. It is best to not even entertain assumptions on the amount of faith or a person’s walk with the Lord.
Job’s Situation in Grief
The book of Job seems to be given as the quintessential tool to those who have suffered in various trials, especially grief. I feel as though I ought to have understood it more deeply before this week’s study of the first eleven chapters. I have always wondered why the friends’ words were recorded, and many times quoted, as truth. If, at the end of the book, God says that the friends were wrong, why do theology students still quote them in respect to the character of God? In light of my study in empathy, the words of the friends and why they are wrong, have finally clicked in my understanding, and I could not be more excited to fully grasp the reasons they were so wrong.
I see now why the friends were wrong. It was not because of their theological viewpoints, but rather their lack of empathy and understanding towards Job. When they spoke, they were judgmental and assuming. When they spoke, they did not ask Job questions and accept his thoughts and answers as true. They told him what they thought, and they told him what he should think, and they told him what he should do. The harshest friend was Zophar who may have spoken the truth about who God is, but he basically called Job a fool.
Will your idle talk reduce others to silence? Will no one rebuke you when you mock? … Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? But the witless can no more become wise than a wild donkey’s colt can be born human [emphasis added]. … Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him, if you put away the sin that is in your hand and allow no evil to dwell in your tent, then, free of fault, you will lift up your face; you will stand firm and without fear” (Job 11:3, 7, 12-15, NIV).
Even Job’s wife, who lost everything except her husband, suggests a plan of action that is not helpful nor healing. She is in depths of the same suffering when she suggests that Job ought to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). At first glance, Eliphaz’s words may seem like encouragement, but to someone grieving, it sounds dismissive of the pain. Job 5:17 reads, “Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.”
Growing in Empathy
Whether it is joyful or grievous or somewhere in between, I have learned that empathy is feeling the feelings of others in order to understand their viewpoint. This may involve mimicking the face, voice, or posture of another person (Decety & Ickes, 2009). It may also involve listening and hearing another’s story and considering it a gift (Spencer, 2016). Anytime I have empathy for another and show compassion in some way, I am following the Lord’s command to love one another.
After reading the chapter entitled “Mirror, Mirror, in my Mind” (Decety & Ickes, 2009), I considered what affective empathy would mean to me as I grew in empathy. As a child, my conduct grade (i.e. social skills) would typically be much lower than my academic skills. Does this mean that I did not possess the solid ability to have affective empathy? Now, as an adult, I can work on my empathy, cognitively and affectively. The definition of empathy can include both the “volitional act of ‘putting oneself into somebody else’s shoes’” and a reliance “on a foundation of shared affect between self and other” (p. 184). Not only do I have the ability to think that I can feel what someone else feels, I also can reflect what someone else feels naturally without consciously thinking about it.
Impact of Empathy
The chapter entitled “Warm as Iceland” (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011), impacted me the most, especially concerning the current climate of the Coronavirus. This chapter discusses how and why Iceland is a healthy and happy country. Much of the discussion focused on their social network and the trust they have in one another. The author says, “Trust, however, relies on human relationships, and as we’ve seen throughout this book, those relationships rely on empathy” (para. 16). The empathy, trust, and relationships drive economic prosperity. The rest of the chapter compares Iceland to America and economic stability based on trust and empathy. It also mentions the inequalities of our society especially between the rich and poor (Perry & Szalavitz, 2011). Today, when I go to the store to get groceries and everyone’s face is covered with a mask, I am prevented from giving or getting empathy. I do not trust anyone, and no one seems to trust me. Our economic way of life and doing business is crumbling before my eyes.
While working on my video presentation, I watched the presentation by Keysers from the Institute of Neuroscience in Netherlands (2017). The most interesting part I found in the experiments that Keysers discussed was about the alteration his wife suggested he try. She suggested that he ask all the subjects being studied to try to be as empathetic as possible. The result was that even the “psychopaths” were able to have as much empathy as the normal functioning people, suggesting that all people can choose to have empathy or choose not to have empathy. Even the last question from an audience member asked if the research has implications for educators teaching empathy, and Keysers responded by saying, “I think actually there’s a very good colleague of mine Jamil Zaki in California that precisely looks at that question. He tries to prime people either with the notion that empathy is a fixed entity or that empathy is something you can work on, that you can modify” (2017, 14:45). I am interested in seeing what these further studies conclude, because I want to know for certain that I can grow in my empathetic responses.
I can also have a healthy level of empathy by being aware of my spiritual walk and emotions. I would practice this awareness by establishing a quiet time of prayer, reading Scripture, routine retreats, and journaling. This practice should become a priority. I can also be aware of emotions I deal with on a daily basis especially the ones that coincide with trauma or grief. I can show awareness of other people’s emotions in an empathic way as to gain insight into their perspectives. I can also be aware of any empathy fatigue by having a strong social network, mentors, and prayer friends.
From this point on I will accept the challenge of loving others in the particular way of first having empathy and then doing what I can to help. Adams defines Biblical empathy as “entering into the problem even more deeply than the counselee has in order to discover God’s viewpoint” (1981, p.32). I also hope to find the generosity in the stories that clients and friends share with me (Spencer, 2015).
At the beginning of this class, I was afraid I would not do well because I lack natural, affective empathy which should have been installed in me as an infant. After researching the definitions of sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and having read all the required reading for this class, and watching the videos, I have come to the conclusion that I can, indeed, learn to have empathy. This has been an impactful journey for me. Most endearing to me is that empathy is wrapped up in the command to “love others as you love yourself” (Mark 12:31, ESV). I believe this is one way Christians can share the gospel and have influence in a fallen, ungodly world. Personally, I believe that not only can I grow in empathy, I can choose empathy.
Adams, J.E. (1981). The language of counseling and the Christian counselor’s wordbook. Zondervan Publishing House.
Humility. (n.d.). Encyclopedia of the Bible. Retrieved from https://
Brown, B. (2013, Dec. 10). Brené Brown on empathy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw&t=65s
Decety, J. & Ickes, W. (2009). The social neuroscience of empathy. [VitalSource Bookshelf].
Retrieved from https://bookshelf.vitalsource.com/#/books/9780262293365/
Keysers, C. (2017, January 23). The empathic brain-MSCA-neuroscience [Video].
Perry, B. D., & Szalavitz, M. D. (2011). Born for love: Why empathy is essential – and
endangered. doi: https://platform.virdocs.com/r/s/0/doc/121593/sp/5872293/mi/
Spencer, A. (2016). Stories as gift: Patient narratives and the development of empathy. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 25(4), 687–690. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ccu.edu/10.1007/s10897-015-9886-9
Welsh, M. (n.d.) Spiritual growth: Made for relationship. Cru. doi: https://www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/made-for-relationship.html.
from Jul 1, 2020
After loving God with all that is in you, you are to turn and love your neighbor. Jesus gives us this story.
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ ; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” ‘Luke 10:26-37 https://my.bible.com/bible/111/LUK.10.26-37
When this virus threat popped up in our culture, people were afraid to contract this horrible, painful virus that had possibilities of death. It looked horrible from the descriptions and speed of infection. People started wearing masks and then if they didn’t, they were asked to wear masks. Finally now people are being required to wear masks. We were told to wear masks so to not spread the virus and to protect the ones we love. Some people are calling those that do not want to wear a mask for whatever reason selfish and not considerate.
I would like to offer my viewpoint and perspective should anyone want to listen to different viewpoints and why I feel the way I do about the mask issue.
I was enrolled in a class called Empathy Training when lockdown and quarantine began. We were studying various children and why and how they receive love, understanding, and how they return that love and understanding to others. Some children struggle with being empathetic, and we looked at the reasons for this. Our textbooks and the information I received in these textbooks were secular and scientific. One chapter in The Social Neuroscience of Empathy was about the economic ramifications of empathy in a social culture/country. It came down, literally, on trust and seeing someone’s face.
Piecing together what I read during this class, what I sense is happening in the Good Samaritan, and what I have dealt with in my present day circumstances, I have come to the conclusion that the mask is doing far greater harm mentally and emotionally to the greater good of society. I am not angry at anyone who wants to wear a mask, but I am hurt. I do not believe that the Lord would hide His face to us if He wants us to trust Him. I do not imagine that society in general can give or receive love as long as we have our face covered.
When the priest and Levi walked around the bleeding and hurt man, they were giving their 6 feet of distance. They did not want to get hurt themselves. They were afraid they would be robbed. Now, I realize the man did not likely have a contagious disease, but I bet he was bloody and perhaps dead (do not the rules say that you become ceremonially unclean if you touch a dead body). I doubt the Samaritan had a mask on so that he would not breathe the bloody wounds or breathe out contagion that he might have been carrying. I suppose he trusted the innkeeper to continue to help whatever the cost. He had to trust.