Tag Archives: Empathy

Broken Princess

Read Colossians 3:12-13

“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God” (1 John 3:18–19 NLT).

Again, I cannot even begin to put into words how amazing Season 11 of The Walking Dead was, not just in terms of entertainment value, but in terms of human and theological insight. The richness of the characters, the trials they have to endure, and the way faith guides them is just second to no other show I have seen. No, The Walking Dead is not a religious show. No, it is not a show centered on theology; however, it is a FAITH-BASED show in the sense that faith is one of the CENTRAL themes of the show.

Case in point, in Episode 19 of Season 11, at around 25 minutes give or take, we come across the character, Princess, talking with Ezekiel. Princess is a young woman who joined Alexandria, the community that the main characters of the show built up. She was found by herself, a sole-survivor, and was taken in by the Alexandrians. NOTE: Alexandria is called that because it is located in what used to be Alexandria, VA, outside of Washington, D.C., prior to the Zombie Apocalypse.

In this scene, Princess was trying to talk Ezekiel into leaving the Commonwealth, a community the Alexandrians left for thinking it would be a great place to live, as it was run much like the “old world” (aka the USA before the Zombie Apocalypse). The Commonwealth was well run, had a military force, and everyone within its walls seem happy, healthy, and oblivious to the world outside its walls. Yet, as Princess and the rest of the Alexandrians found out, there was more there than meets the eye.
Without spoiling anything, just like it was in the “old world”, the Commonwealth was nothing more than a ruse to keep the masses happy while those in power keep themselves wealthy and in control. There was corruption and there was a true lack of care for the lives of the common people. As is the case across the world, politics provide faux hope to the masses.

Princess, knowing this, was trying to talk Ezekiel into leaving; however, Ezekiel was a leader and an empath as well. He cared for the people he had come to know and he didn’t want to abandon them just because the world they lived in was corrupt. He felt they were worth fighting for and was willing to do what it took to make the Commonwealth better for all.

“How about Mercer, you think he’s a good man,” Ezekiel asked Princess, hoping that bringing her boyfriend up would make her reconsider leaving. “Yeah,” she responded while nodding hesitantly, “I think he is. But I’ve also known a lot of men I thought were good, and it doesn’t always turn out that way.”

“[Mercer] and I haven’t always seen eye to eye, but I will say this: Most folks are trying to make the best of what’s in front of them,” Ezekiel said. “It could be he’s trying to do the same.”

Princess looked up, broken and torn, tears in her eyes, “Yeah, well maybe this time I deserve more than the best of a bad situation.”

Ezekiel looked at her, “Yeah you do”, he said with empathy as he approached her and gently put his hand on her shoulder. “And whatever you decide, I’m here if you need me.” Ezekiel then walked away to leave her to have some alone time. In that situation, Ezekiel saw Princess through the eyes of God. He saw her pain, her suffering, her desire for more than “the best of a bad situation”, and he affirmed that, indeed, she was WORTH far more than that!

In that moment, the show taught us something that the Bible teaches us. It taught us that humans are broken and want to be UNBROKEN. We want an end to the suffering, the sadness, the pain, the turmoil, the politics, the greed, the bitterness, the hate. We want to live in a world where WE are included for who we are, as opposed to who someone else wants us to be. We want to live in a world where our pain is seen and CARED FOR, rather than ignored and invalidated.

The Bible, and this episode, show us the way to begin that kind of transformation in the world. In the show, it is shown through Ezekiel, who is the presence of God in that moment for broken Princess. And his message: people are worth fighting for…including you, Princess. And I am here if you need me! He heard her and LOVED her and opened his heart to her.

For us, as witnessed to in the Bible, that transformation happens when we accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. It is then that the Holy Spirit helps us to see people through Jesus Christ’s eyes, as well as guides us to follow his example in LOVING them through our presence and our ability to listen and hear where they are coming from. True healing can only come through humble listening and empathy. Jesus, of course, IS our perfect model for what being compassionate, humble, servants is all about. If we follow him, he will continually lead us to be more and more like him and we, too, can have the effect that Ezekiel has on people in the show.

“Empathy begins with understanding life from another person’s perspective. Nobody has an objective experience of reality. It’s all through our own individual prisms.” – Sterling K. Brown

Lord, help me to grow in compassion, empathy, and in being present for those lost, the broken, and any who are in need. Amen.


Read 1 Peter 2:1-5

“And You have caused them to become a Kingdom of priests for our God. And they will reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10)

empathy-1It is always hard dealing with the changes and the challenges that life throws our way. Just when everything seems to settle, the smoke clears, and life seems to be going the way we expect it, that is the moment another catastrophe or unexpected tragedy hits us. In the midst of that, we are left behind scratching our heads, beating our chests, and crying out to God for an answers as to WHY these things happen.

Of course, there is no answer to the question, “why”, that would ever satisfy us in moments of tragedy, loss and grief. Honestly, even if there was a REALLY good reason as to why, it would do us no good in removing the pain we feel. The fact of the matter is that we spend our lives building relationships, growing to love and care for people and, in the midst of that, time flies by and life happens. Before we know it the people we love, the homes we have made, and the lives we have built seem to come crashing down all around us with little or notice whatsoever.

As a person who has served as a youth pastor, a senior pastor, and a chaplain in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, I have seen people I have grown to love and deeply respect go through tough illnesses, life-altering/life-threatening accidents, and terminal diseases. I have sat with youth who are suffering depression, whose parents are going through divorce and a host of other issues. On the one hand, it is what I do and I am thankful to God that I get to serve in such a capacity as I know it means the world to those who are in need of pastoral presence and prayer.

With that said, pastors and chaplains are human too, and we also find ourselves struggling to process the tragedies, the trials, the loss, and the grief that life throws our way, even when we are simultaneously offering our support and presence to others who are going through the same exact process. What’s more, as a human being, I have had my share of losses that are not connected with my vocation. I have lost family members I was close to, I have lost friends, and I have lost my own self-identity at points. I have struggled through illnesses of my own, I have suffered depression, and I have had my share of life-threatening accidents that, one day, I may very well suffer more consequences from.

It is in that very human experience that we have ALL been given a tremendous gift and a tremendous responsibility. As humans, we are are able to relate with others as result of our own personal experiences. We are able to be there for others because we can understand what they are going through, even when our own circumstances don’t match theirs entirely. It is in our humanity, that we have been given the power to relate and to empathize with people.

I recently was shown a YouTube video that nicely sums up the difference between Sympathy and Empathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for people from a distance. We keep that distance to prevent ourselves from being in the darkness, the loss, the grief, the suffering with the people we are sympathizing with. Empathy on the other hand, is being present with people in the midst of their despair, joining them in that despair and shouldering that despair with them so that they do not suffer alone.

This is certainly what pastors, myself included, do in our ministries; however, this is not a roll that is specific only to pastors and clergy but a roll that all people are called to partake in. God, in Jesus Christ, suffered in all the ways common to the human experience, empathizes with us, and helps us to shoulder the things we are struggling with. So to, God calls us all to minister to one another in order that no one suffers alone. The Gospel, and the Bible as a whole, witness to the priesthood of all believers. We are all ordained by God to minister to one another and, in that ministry, we are to be a people of empathy, not sympathy.

“The priest is not made. One must be born a priest; must inherit [the] office. I refer to the new birth—the birth of water and the Spirit. Thus all Christians [are] priests, children of God and co-heirs with Christ the Most High Priest. – Rev. Martin Luther

Lord, put in my heart your compassion and your empathy so that I may share in the suffering of others as I bear witness to your presence in their lives and in their struggles. Amen.

15 Ailments of the Church #11: Being Indifferent to Others

Read Revelation 3:1-6, 14-22


“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17 NLT)

Wall-of-ApathyWe live a world of coup d’état. Every time we turn around people are being undercut, taken out of the way, disposed of and replaced by people who don’t seem to be any better than the ones they’ve replaced. All anyone has to do is to turn on the news to see plenty of examples of this happening, especially in American politics. People who would otherwise be political allies are throwing each other under the bus in order to win an election and/or make political gains. Of course, in world and/or national politics this sort of thing is expected. What’s sad is that it has become expected over the years in the Christian church as well. This leads us to Pope Francis I’s 11th Ailment of the church.

11th Ailment of the Church: Being indifferent to others. If one were to ask a Christian what the mission and purpose of the church is, my guess is that “being indifferent to others” wouldn’t even make the list! Jesus certainly wasn’t indifferent to others. He may not have liked everyone he came into contact with, he may not have agreed with everything everyone believed, and he definitely got angry with certain people and certain angers; however, Jesus was NEVER, EVER indifferent to them.

Many people think that hatred is the opposite of love. The truth is that hatred is NOT the opposite of love. In fact, sometimes there is an extremely fine line between love and hate. They are too close to each other, emotionally speaking, for them to be opposites. What is truly opposite of love is apathy. Apathy is literally a lack of care, enthusiasm, interest and/or concern. In other words, apathy is indifference and indifference is ultimately the opposite of empathy which is closely related to sympathy and includes the following attributes: compassion, care, solicitude, affinity, concern, etc. In reality, apathy is the opposite of love.

Yet, the church often fails to have empathy and often falls into the category of apathy. People have too often been used as a means to an end rather than being the end unto themselves. People with in the church have cut other church members down in order to advance their agendas, their positions and/or their beliefs. The church has cut different groups of people down, apathetic to whether or not their actions are damning or damaging to the people who fall beneath their judgment. Individual Christians and churches alike will often justify not helping someone because of excuses they come up with that, consciously or unconsciously, are really nothing more than constructed walls to hide an underlying apathy for the people they are avoiding helping.

Jesus is calling the church back to empathy. That doesn’t mean that the church will agree with everything, or that it will affirm everything…but that in all things, in agreement or disagreement, the church will both care enough to RESPOND and to RESPOND LOVINGLY. A loving response is not necessarily a a response of love or affirmation…but one that seeks to build the other up, even when it requires a bit of tearing down. Christ wants a church that is engaged with and active among others, as opposed to just being a country club that is engaged and active with itself. That kind of activity serves no purpose, but the kind Christ seeks IS THE PURPOSE of the church. Don’t undercut, don’t view people as disposable, removable, and/or replaceable. Don’t seek to use people, indifferently, as a means to an end, but view people as the end unto themselves. Be engaged and be active in ways that show the empathy, love, compassion, care, concern, and solicitude of Christ our Lord.

“I correct and discipline everyone I love. So be diligent and turn from your indifference.” – Jesus, the risen Christ (Revelation 3:19 NLT)

Lord, I never wish to be indifferent or apathetic. Spark in me a passion to act according to your will. Amen.