With Mother’s Day approaching it is easy to think of multiple examples of putting oneself in another’s place. The very best example of such empathy is Jesus when he as God, willingly emptied himself of many of the powers and privileges of deity to become a human with all our pains, struggles, concerns and temptations. His humanity was just as real as his deity and for one to deny either is to be “anti-Christ.” When Isaiah looked down through time to the day of Jesus entering this world as a man he said he would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. He understood well the disappointment of having those dear to you turn their backs on you and walk away. He knew the challenge of being doubted, questioned and all of your motives being misjudged. Yet, he willingly took on him our sins and went to the cross to pay the price for our sins so we can be forgiven and renewed to full fellowship with God.
I suspect the the second best illustration of empathy in life is a good mother who feels her child’s pains and sorrows and hurts alongside them with every problem they go through. Often that mother is still hurting for her child long after the child has gotten over the pain and gone on with their activities. When her child is honored in life, she feels honored. When they are discouraged, she is discouraged. It may be that nine months a child spends in the mother’s womb that brings on such empathy or the months at her breast as she feeds the child and bonds with them in unity. But I suspect it goes deeper even than those things in that it is common to see the mother who adopted a child who was already past those times in life will still feel with them in all the same ways.
But here is the challenge of life. How can we who aren’t God in the flesh and aren’t mother’s feel that kind of empathy in life toward the one who shares life with us as our wife or even with our children, friends or brothers and sisters in Christ? It is rather easy in life to feel sympathetic toward others in their times of stress and difficulty. I can shed tears with the other person and pray for them in their troubles. I can even look at their difficulties and offer solutions to them. As a matter of fact most of us as men are quick to offer our wives solutions when they wish to tell us of something that is really bothering them. Quite often we are sure we know the solution to their problems even before they have gotten started good in telling us what is bothering them. Our readiness to share the solution normally leaves the wife frustrated and wondering what in the world is wrong with this man they are married to that they can’t just listen and allow them to pour out their concerns without rushing in with the answer.
Remember Jesus in the great Sermon on the Mount giving us what we know as the Golden Rule. “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Focus on this command for a moment with me. The word “So” at the beginning ties the command to the previous thoughts about prayer. Jesus had said to “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.” He then offered some commentary on the statement illustrating it by asking if our son asked for bread, would we give him a stone or if he asked for a fish would we give him a snake? “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Luke’s account of the same lesson changes the good gifts that the Father gives us to the Holy Spirit that God gives us when we ask. Then he added the “So” and the golden rule. How does the golden rule fit with the whole prayer discussion? The fact that God answers our prayers by giving what we ask for and often even more or better than we ask. If we are to be like him we must apply that same heart to others in our life.
Think of how to apply the principle. There are things in life that I like one way that many others like very differently. For example, if I were giving to my wife what I wanted it would likely be a peanut butter pie but if I want to give her what would please her it wouldn’t be a peanut butter pie at all but something chocolate. Now the whole point on eating is simply to illustrate that when we observe this way of living it isn’t about doing for others exactly what we want but looking for the things in life they love and long for and striving to fulfill their longings rather than our own. If we simply give to our wives the things we would want, it becomes the ultimate act of selfishness. But when we forget what we would like or want and work to get for them what they would truly love we are observing the golden rule for life. When we do so we fulfill the very heart and action that God was driving at when he gave us the law and the prophets.
Try something today that can make your marriage the best it has ever been. Try putting yourself in your partner’s place and seeing things through their eyes for a while. It is certainly easy in marriage to be frustrated at our partner because they don’t do things the way we like and they don’t have the same attitude we do. When we fail to see from their point of view we set the marriage up for misery, failure and complete ruin. When we learn to feel things as they do, see things as the see them and observe their feelings, hurts and joys and have the emotions they have in them, our mate feels loved and accepted where they are. Such actions build trust and lay the ground work for forgiveness, peace of mind and genuine intimacy in the marriage.
“Have this attitude in you that was also in Christ who being in very nature God, didn’t see equality with God as something to be grasped. But he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”