Yesterday was a pretty stressful day for me. As those of you who have been following my journey know, this year I became a middle school science teacher. And one of the responsibilities of teachers is to occasionally measure to see how well the information we are passing along to our students is being recorded in their brains. In other words, we give a test. And it was so stressful! It was almost like one of those, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” moments. Here I am asking them to give back to me all I’ve poured into them for the last nine weeks and I soooo want everyone to pass with flying colors…but not everyone was ready. Sure, some of them did great. Some of them even performed right in the middle where you would expect them to be. But some of them failed. And my heart broke for them. I immediately began to try to find ways to help them recover their grade (and don’t worry, a fellow teacher helped me come up with a fair and equitable solution). But I felt like the test was for me almost as much as it was for them.
I mean, think about it for a minute. For nine weeks we have worked on projects, had teaching moments, lectures, home assignments and group discussions. To even top it all off, there was a review they have had access too for about 4 days. I gave them all of these resources to succeed and some of them still struggled during the test. The funny thing is, I never really struggled with tests when I was a student; yes, I was one of those kids. But it doesn’t mean I don’t empathize with them now. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to help them any way I can now. I’m reminded of the passage of scripture in the letter to the Hebrews about how God sees us during times of testing. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 Did you see it there? Jesus has dealt with every test/temptation that will come our way, was faultless, but empathizes with our situation to the point of pouring out grace to help.
You see there are so many ways that God continually pours grace into our lives. We see it in the sunrise each day. We feel in in the breath that we breathe. We read it in the pages of the Bible. We hear it from the saints that go before us. We’re reminded of it as we gather to sing songs about God. The moments of beauty and love in this world are being poured into us moment by moment so that when we face difficult times and hardship and temptation, we know where our strength lies. And even if we do fail or we don’t measure up or we forget about all that has been poured into us, we still have a high priest who empathizes/feels for us and is ready to lavish grace on us yet again to help bring us through. So maybe you’re the student who always feels like the tests come when you aren’t ready. There’s grace for you. Maybe you’re the student who knows the material, but just can’t seem to recall it. There’s grace for you. Maybe you’re the student who gets so worked up by the test in front of you that the truths you know that you know seem too far away to be real. There’s grace for you.
I pray that you would find yourself being poured into moment by moment and day by day, by the God who knows you and wants to see you succeed as you are clothed by grace for the times that test.
There seems to me to be a lot of concern these days for unity. Whether it is unity in our families, in our communities, in our churches or even in our nation, there is apparently a lot of room for improvement. However, it also seems that when most of us are speaking about unity we ultimately are referring to the other person coming around to seeing things the way we see them. It reminds me of the old Beatles song, We Can Work it Out, “Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?” But therein lies the issue. We always want others to see it our way before we put forth the effort to see it their way. In Harper Lee’s classic ‘everyone must read this book in high school’ masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is talking to young Scout when he says this, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I guess the best way to define this action is empathy. And empathy is the only way we can ever find our way forward into true unity (or trunity).
The example of course for empathy is an incarnational example. The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi when he has this to say, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:4-7 The example for us in empathy is set by a God who set aside all the power of the universe and unlimited ability to become like you and I. And so Paul asks us to behave in our relationships with the same mindset. Unity is only accomplished when we learn to look at life, conflict, relationships, stances, principles, etc. from the other’s point of view before feeling the need to defend our own. And in order to do this…well, we kind of have to get to know the other person.
This is where it gets kind of tricky. Online exchanges do not count as getting to know another person…even the makers of eHarmony know this. Text messages do not enable you to see the world through another person’s eyes…no matter how many emojis you use. The only way we truly can begin to empathize with another person and their way of seeing the world is through life lived together. Perhaps it begins with coffee. Then maybe it’s a meal.Then perhaps you actually begin to be friends and you start to see that maybe their way of looking at things isn’t so backward after all. The ancient church fathers used to say ,”To know all is to forgive all”. And maybe that is what this life is about after all. We are learning to live together here so that eternity is just a continuation of the unity that we have begun while together on earth. May God grant us the ability to see one another as He sees us and move us forward in becoming one.
First of all, I am a Red Sox fan. Even as I type this, I am wearing my Boston hat; after all, it’s all even again. But last night I sat in solidarity with many of my friends who are diehard Cubs fans who know what heartache feels like (to my Cleveland friends, my sympathies). Last night I found myself sitting on pins and needles as the game was tied up in the bottom of the 8th inning. Then I rolled my eyes as they rolled the tarp onto the field for a rain delay after the 9th inning. And then I was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief for my Chicago friends as I refreshed my screen in my bed just before midnight. This morning I reveled in their celebratory posts and jubilations all over the internet. Knowing the feeling I had in 2004, I can only imagine the excitement that is pouring out of them today. And so this morning I celebrate with them.
Empathy is a funny emotion. Empathy is defined as, “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. Some would even argue that this is a distinctively human trait, although I know some dog owners who might take this to task. But empathy is something that ties the human experience together. We seek to understand and relate to each other based on common experiences and feelings or emotions. Most often empathy is though of in terms of loss or grief, but it is meant to be shared in other experiences as well. When addressing the church in Rome, Paul says this, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” – Romans 12:15. This does include feelings of sadness, but it also includes feelings of celebration and rejoicing.
The funny thing is, sometimes we aren’t that good at this. It’s almost easier to see the other guy lose when we don’t feel like we don’t measure up. I’ve even heard of churches being jealous of other churches success?!? “Well they aren’t staying true to the call.” “They aren’t holding true to doctrine like we are”. How about instead of criticizing we get excited about the fact that more people are hearing about Jesus. How about instead of refusing to celebrate their success we get on board trusting the Holy Spirit to do the work that was promised. How about we celebrate and rejoice with any success and excitement we see in the Kingdom of God because we are all in this together. You may not have been excited about the Cubs winning last night, but I think we are all called to get excited about the Kingdom successes of our sisters and brothers even when they don’t look quite like we think they should. Let’s trust God and rejoice with each other!