Maybe that’s the problem?
I like the word, “empathy.”
I’m a peacemaker. How could I not? Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines it:
“the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings
the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also : the capacity for this”
But its definition says it’s a noun, and my understanding of it is as a verb.
If you are still here reading as the month comes to a close, I hope you will filter each post through the lens of empathy…it’s the lens through which I write and the way I pray to see and treat and understand others on a daily basis.
I fail all the time.
But that doesn’t mean I give up on the practice. Today my legs are sore and I’m utterly exhausted, because in an attempt to practice empathy, I walked 14 miles cold turkey. It’s not that I don’t walk once in a while…I do yoga, lift weights, and walk and sprint as my work-outs, but for usually no more than an hour.
We, the “Graveswolds” are living on a lake in South Dakota for a season that is 14 miles around by the road ways. I decided I wanted to walk around it before the first freeze and we’ll be out of town in Minneapolis next weekend, and the weekend after that could be the first freeze, so this morning, I was totally going to do yoga because it was chilly and sprinkling and I’m DECIDEDLY NOT a fair weather girl, plus I haven’t really “trained” for the distance, just a 5, 6, and 8 mile walk over the last couple months and 2 full days of walking all over Paris last week, adding up to about 18-20 or so miles, and I’m doing a major detox, and on and on and on…
So there are tons of excuses and complaints and reasons why yoga in a heated room would have been yummier.
BUT, the reason I wanted to walk in the first place, and the reason I told my excuses to shut the hell up, were backed by empathy.
You see, I’ve been reading the 4th chapter of John for 15 years, and as a result, the lives of women and water and wells are near and dear to my heart…
…and there are women who are still just girls all over Africa who walk 14 miles every day or every other day to get water for their families. And the water is usually from a dirty, mucky, contaminated source that has to be boiled once they get back to their villages…their villages that, for some reason, don’t have fresh water wells yet…
And these beautiful girls could not only be in schools learning awesome stuff, but they could also be working and gleaning wisdom and nurturing alongside the grown-ups in their lives, even if it is in a field and different from the First World’s idea of childhood.
And these beautiful girls walk even if it’s sprinkling or hot or there are predators…and they don’t have the luxury of a 31 day detox/cleanse challenge or of an incredible husband and kids meeting them at the half-way point with a Nalgene of pure water and lunch of meat and veggies.
Empathy isn’t meant to make us feel guilty for what we have and what others don’t have. The purpose of practicing empathy, whether in deed or heart to heart understanding is to ask ourselves, on any given day, in any situation, upon learning the story of another, this question:
“How would that make me feel?”
Here’s how I felt today as I walked and prayed and pressed on around Lake Kampeska:
- I was grateful to have U2 singing me along, ministering to my bones, and a chance to talk to both of my sisters in the 4+ hours it took to circle the lake…I hope the children who walk great distances for water at least have some friends or other kids to walk with because that’s a lot of time to be alone with your thoughts…
- I was thirsty. I purposefully did NOT bring water on the walk, one because I didn’t want to have to carry something, and two, because I didn’t know where I’d stop to pee, and three, because I knew my prince and chitlins were bringing me rations halfway…I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to schlep 40 lbs of *dirty water for half the distance I did today. I know what a 40 lb, 5 year old feels like in my arms, but to carry him for 2-3 hours would break me.
- A million other thoughts, but one last observation: It’s true I wouldn’t know any different if this were my chore as an African child, but time is my love language, and today I spent 4+ hours away from my family. While this kind of a break is usually welcome and wonderful and refreshing for my soul, it’s usually doing something I choose to do for relaxation or rejuvenation…different from a tasking chore. And I think of all the time those kids are apart from their parents or community, which may fill their hearts with a sense of contribution and worth, but what wisdom and mentoring they are missing, or what snuggles or smiles or glimpses or loving gestures they simply miss out on with the casual interaction that happens with doing life together, because they are fetching water at great lengths.
World Vision International is the largest NGO that provides clean water to the developing world. Their work and presence in nearly 100 countries enables other non-profit organizations to dig wells in villages around the world.
So, yeah. Empathy is asking ourselves, “How would that make me feel?” It’s a “me” focused question, yes, but meant to experience life through the eyes and in the shoes of another…and it’s painful and beautiful all at once.
I was thirsty…and he gave me a drink.