Three strangers rapped on my kitchen door.
It was about 9:00 am. Not knowing what they wanted, I cautiously opened the parsonage door and greeted them with a friendly, but inquisitive “hello”. Lela explained to me that her father, J.I. Thomas, was pastor of the congregation in the 1950’s and 60’s, and was inquiring if they could go into the church and look around.
As I grabbed the church key and accompanied them across the parking lot I began to imagine what life might have been like for them here, all those long years ago.
Within minutes of conversation with Jeff, his wife Margaret, and Aunt Lela, I recognized our life experiences were quite similar.
I eagerly listened to their stories, and quickly bonded with my new friends.
We are strangers no more.
Their reminiscing reminds me of a similar delight I experienced when I returned to the sacred ground of my childhood days.
I’ve moved a fair amount in my lifetime, and greatly appreciate returning to visit ‘old’ friends and familiar gathering places.
My family and I moved this past year, in fact.
God has plucked us up and plunked us down into another beautiful community.
Not only have the ‘strangers’ here become new friends, but also I have found heart working women in the hearts and faces of these women. Melanie Fyock is among those friends, and has an exciting vision that coordinates beautifully with the work of Heart Working Women.
Back to Jeff, Margaret, and Lela . . .
I could read the delight written all over Jeff. He was thrilled to be back. His expressions made me believe this was his childhood oasis. Walking to the end of those long-ago familiar sanctuary aisles, he came – at last – to the piano and reminisced how he played it for his grandad.
When we entered the basement the aged red hymnals, piled in a corner, are what captured his attention.
He continued basking in the comforting atmosphere as we climbed the stairs to the second floor classrooms. Taking it all in, Jeff paused as the light wood paneled walls beckoned him to identify what else may have survived the decades.
Surely those tiny wooden chairs are the same ones he sat in decades earlier.
My history is similar to Jeff’s history.
I vicariously connected with his memories of wholesome childhood church experiences as I have had the joy of going back to visit the church of my childhood too . . .
. . . the church where my father pastored.
It was not the same church Jeff, Margaret, Lela, and I were exploring together that day.
It was the place where I sat as a little girl in the Sunday School Classroom listening to the lessons, and chattering with friends. The place I returned to visit on a weekday as an adult. The placewhereI enjoyed reminiscing while climbing the stairs to the balcony . . . grasping the same sturdy dark wood banister which steadied my way decades earlier.
My experience mirrored Jeff’s experience. I understood Jeff’s delight.
We bonded on sacred ground.
Lela, Jeff, and Margaret were strangers strolling into my yard that Thursday morning, but are strangers no more.
I could easily “put myself in Jeff and Lela’s shoes”.
I could go beyond the cognitive ability to imagine what they were feeling, and I could actually feel what they were experiencing.
That is empathy.
The definition of empathy is: the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. To feel what they are feeling.
Empathy does not always come as easy to me as it did that day.
Like the day my family and I visited the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond. We were tourists. Thankfully, our experiences did not mirror the horrific experiences of the holocaust victims.
I did not want to walk through this museum of tragedy, however, without a heartfelt connection to their humanness.
In an open eyed casual prayer, I ask God to give me an emotional awareness of their experiences.
Instinctively, I glance above my head at the engraved plaques suspending from the ceiling. They hang as a display, imprinted with the individuals names, to commemorate those killed in the concentration camps.
My eyes naturally gaze on the plaque immediately above my head. Etched into it was my oldest son’s first name, MAX, coupled with my maiden name HURSH (including the correct though unusual spelling of it).
This was more than coincidental.
It was an answer to my prayer.
Max’s name drew me into a personal connection and empathy for him, and the others represented there, like little else could.
Empathy is one of our highest qualities, as human beings.
If you desire to have empathy for someone, but don’t have it, you can ask God for it.
If you don’t have the desire to have empathy for someone you can even ask for that desire.
Empathy increases helpful behaviors, and is the root of most of the behavior that is associated with goodness. Our individualistic society desperately needs it.
On the contrary, a lack of empathy is the root of most of the destructive behavior that is associated with evil.
“Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” Phil 2:4 NASB
God’s design for relationship involves empathy and connection with others who are similar, and dissimilar, to us.
You may have more in common with someone than you realize. When we hear each others stories, truly hear them, we realize we are strangers no more.
Connection is a giant missing piece in our culture today.
• The inward ‘head & heart’ connection which brings personal wholeness
• The outward connection with others which brings together healthy communities
• The upward connection with God which brings all of what’s good
As a society we are disconnecting rapidly, and experiencing the destructive results.
Empathy (which is the opposite of shame) will do much to bring wholeness and healing to those who are disconnected and on a downward spiral. Empathizing with someone doesn’t mean you agree with, or condone the other’s actions or behavior. Empathy draws people together in a healthy way.
The cathartic power of empathy is enormous. It turns strangers into friends, and heath to a community.
There is much healing to be experienced in meaningfully connecting.
It’s the heart beat of Heart Working Women.