An Honest Journey
Practicing Empathy is Hard

Practicing Empathy is Hard

I like to think I’m an empathetic person, and for the most part, I believe that description accurately defines my character. But plenty of times I’ve fallen short of being empathetic, especially with those closest to me.

Recently, my husband spent most of two days with our kids on full dad-duty. I was busy working, running errands, and taking care of appointments, while he gladly spent those two days keeping our kids busy, active, and fed. He also made time to help around the house and assist with some fall clean-up at his parents’ home.

While I was extremely grateful for his dedicated support those two days, I completely failed to show empathy or compassion when he voiced how tired he was at the end of it. My response to his exhaustion sounded something like,  

“Well, now you know how I feel because this is what I do all the time.”


Pridefully shoving aside his emotions, I chose to elevate myself. I didn’t listen, encourage, or support him in a time of need; I simply reminded him of the work I typically do each day and how he should take notice.

Not very empathetic of me.

As the words tumbled out of my mouth, I realized how horrible they were, yet instead of apologizing, I continued to justify “how hard I have it.”

Even more yikes.

After our kids were in bed, God worked on my stubborn heart- pushing me to go back to that conversation with my husband. That night, I acknowledged my prideful heart and hurtful words. I apologized to my husband for my lack of empathy, and thankfully we reconciled quickly.

Are you like me? Have you spoken words showing little compassion or concern for another’s struggles? I would imagine we’ve all been there at some point. Our natural, fleshly response is often one that wants to brush aside someone’s hardship or even justify it instead of connecting and empathizing with others.

Practicing empathy is hard, but it’s needed if we want to develop strong, healthy, and lasting relationships.

So how can we choose to be more empathetic with those around us?

1. Choose to sit in silence and listen.

In our deepest hurts, having a friend or family member just sit with us to listen is powerful. In the silence, there is work and connection being done.

Job experienced this quiet presence from his friends during immense suffering. His friends initially, lovingly sat with him for seven days without saying a word (Job 2:13).   

Have you experienced the power of sitting silently with a friend or loved one who is in a deep hardship? Or maybe someone has sat with you in a quiet, comforting silence. The silent presence of a loved one, holding your hand, or just being near, can mean so much during a difficult time.

Sometimes there are no words to say. There’s no specific fix or encouragement to give, but your presence matters.

When we practice sitting and listening, we are connecting and building a stronger relationship. We are choosing relationship over filling the void with meaningless talk.

To answer before listening- that is folly and shame.

Proverbs 18:13

2. Connect rather than “fix”.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m in a vulnerable state, I want someone to identify with my struggle and encourage me. I don’t always want someone to jump right in and start “fixing” my problems. I want someone to identify how hard something has been and how angry, sad, or burdened I am.

While that may sound funny, when you or I begin fixing someone’s problem, rather than empathizing and truly listening first, we’re pushing aside what really matters- connection. Real, authentic connection starts with empathy and compassion.

When you feel listened to and loved, you will be more likely to take advice when the time is right. But connection and empathy come before fixing.

Have you noticed when others start with “fixing” problems instead of connecting first, it often makes things worse? I’ve noticed when certain individuals jump into “fixing”, it’s often a fix that doesn’t relate to what’s needed or the person who is struggling shuts down because of a lack of connection.  

When Jesus met with Mary and Martha after Lazarus had died, Jesus already knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, but He didn’t go straight to fixing the situation. Jesus was first moved with compassion to weep with Mary and recognize how much this loss hurt because they both loved Lazarus dearly.

When Jesus saw her (Mary) weeping, and the Jews had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled.

John 11:33

Jesus wept.

John 11:35

Part of being human is connecting on a relational level with others, and that means bearing one another’s burdens, sitting with the hurting, and choosing to connect over trying to make everything “perfect”.

Bear one another’s burdens, and therefore fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

While empathy can be challenging for all of us at different times, it is essential for each of us to have flourishing and meaningful relationships. Our Lord and Savior showed the deepest empathy and compassion toward us in our sinful and rebellious state. Without Jesus’ compassion, we would not have a right relationship with God the Father. Jesus chose empathy, connection, and sacrifice, before fixing.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

As you and I go out into the world, let’s choose to empathize with those around us in our daily interactions, not neglecting to show compassion to those within our own homes. God can use your empathetic heart to bring peace and comfort by shining Christ’s light.

Photo by Transly Translation Agency on Unsplash

15 thoughts on “Practicing Empathy is Hard

    • Author gravatar

      Well said! Thank you for sharing!

    • Author gravatar

      I think most of us moms have said the same thing to our husbands at some point in our lives!!! Great advice.
      Choosing to sit in silence and listen – without comment, but with understanding – is so important.

      • Author gravatar

        This is true! I’m thankful my husband has learned to have a good listening ear over the years. And he’s helped step up when I’m exhausted, but yes, haha, I’m sure many of us have been there! Thanks for your comment.

    • Author gravatar

      Excellent article, Amber. Good writing. Thank you. Empathy is extremely important because it honors another in need of someone understanding his or her pain, hurt, suffering, weariness, tiredness, etc. It is a validation of the effort they extended or what they have gone through, often something negative, unappreciated, or what others take for granted. In such cases, one can understand that before “the fixing,” something usually given from a mental perspective addressing “the brain,” there should be recognition of another’s depth of being, or their “heart.”

      Another thing about Lazarus is that the Lord had received news of His friend’s dying condition but purposefully put off going to see him for two days. He had decided to let Him suffer and die. This broke His heart, of course, because He knew He could have gone and healed him. But the Lord had a bigger plan and needed Lazarus and his family to trust Him. Lazarus did. He stayed in faith throughout. The Lord knew his friend would do this and remain loyal which broke His heart all the more.

      This means the Lord wasn’t just necessarily and rightly granting empathy to the sisters of Lazarus and weeping for His friend, but also weeping because He had to let his friend die. In this we also must know that it breaks the Lord’s heart when any of us pass away, because He also has to let us die. He could stop our deaths if He wanted to but in most cases, of course, he doesn’t. It is why all of us must also remain in faith and on good loving terms with the Lord regardless of our circumstances because we must trust Him. The good news for Lazarus was that he would be raised from the dead (though he would still have to die yet again). In the future, for each one who dies in faith, who has the Lord’s salvation, and who is fully prepared for eternity, they too will be raised from the dead as Lazarus was, but for forever.

      This does not lesson our pain at losing loved ones or the Lord’s pain for the same, but does tell us a day will come when real believers will be raised to new life. At that time there will no longer be any need for empathy since it will be a time of celebration. But for now, empathy should or must precede celebration.

      So, though there was much heartache for Lazarus’ death, there must have also been much celebration in his household at his raising. Every story the Lord writes has a happy ending…

      • Author gravatar

        Thank you for the detailed reply, RJ. I appreciate you expanding on Jesus knowing his friend would die and waiting for 2 days. All the while, his heart was breaking knowing this. It reminds me of my son asking, “Well, why can’t Jesus just come back now? Why do we have to suffer?” I can’t imagine knowing the immense amount of suffering in our world that God sees & patiently waits for those to turn back to Him. It’s hard to fully explain (especially to an 8 year old) how we each have to trust God, His timing, and in time there will be celebrating but we are not there yet. I do believe the Holy Spirit does a great work in our heart for us to trust this. We can’t fully see God’s purpose in all the suffering, but God is love, and we see that love in His very nature- especially when our own suffering births something beautiful. But you’re right, this does not lessen our pain in the waiting, but I’m thankful Jesus can empathize with our suffering. Thanks, again for your comment.

    • Author gravatar

      Great post Amber! We have to learn how to connect to others from a humanistic and spiritual perspective thereby connecting to God. Blessings and Peace!

    • Author gravatar

      I know what it means to be afraid. beyond that, I don’t feel I am ever certain about how someone else feels or what motivates them. I think it’s better when I listen to them tell their story. then I can really understand what they’re going through.

    • Author gravatar

      True! 😊

    • Author gravatar

      I just love this Amber, and it is a great reminder to me that I have a ways to go with this topic. Being a hard charging type “A” bull in the China shop personality, I often want to jump right into the fix, offering up what I think are solutions to the problem. Set all emotions aside and lets get after it. More often than not however, my wife isn’t wanting solutions-not yet anyhow. She is seeking empathy from me, she is wanting time with me to simply listen and appreciate what she is dealing with. Again, thank you for the great post!

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