This post is not about snow.
Our elderly neighbor, Miss H., waved from her mailbox across the street. We decided to stop over real quick before heading out to the grocery store.
“It’s going to snow tonight!” my 5 year old informed her with a smile on her face.
Miss H.’s eyes wrinkled, “Oh,” she said, “I don’t like the snow much. It’s difficult for me to get out for my mail.” She shifted her weight on her cane. My kids, undeterred, regaled her with stories about their favorite snow day activities.
We piled into the car and headed to the grocery store to join all the other before-the-storm shoppers. It was a flurry of busy people and long lines, but thank goodness they still had milk.
The sky was blue-grey and the smell of snow was in the air. I rubbed my hands together as I loaded the groceries into the car. All the kids finally buckled, we pulled into the turning lane to exit the parking lot.
There was a man standing on the corner, sign in hand: “homeless, hungry, anything helps,” scrawled across it.
I put the car in park, opened the door, and stepped out. “Is food okay?” I asked as I handed him a box of granola bars.
I shook his hand and he held on. “Yes, thank you so much.”
“It’s going to snow,” I was concerned. His jacket was thin, and the temperature was dropping.
“I’m just trying to get some cash so I can catch a bus outta here. I want to get to the shelter before it hits.” Which would be in like an hour.
“What’s your name, can I pray for you?”
“Please, yes please. Please pray for me. Thank you.”
The groceries were unloaded and the first snowflake danced down from the sky. My kids saw it and squealed.
They were bundled up and out the door in a flash. They swirled the gathering dusting across the front step. They scraped their shovels across the white-tipped grass.
They were in heaven. They stayed out there past sunset, reveling in the first snowfall of the season. Their joy was uninhibited by the cold and dark.
My husband let out a sigh: “Should I start shoveling tonight, or wait till the morning when it’s done coming down?”
This Post is Not About Snow
This post is not about snow.
It’s about people.
And about our unique responses to the same things.
See, I didn’t have an outlook on the snow. No positive or negative reactions. It was simply coming, and I was simply preparing. Making a to-do list and working my way through it.
But in the course of a day, I met with four different people, with four different reactions to the snow.
One elderly lady was worried.
One homeless man was anxious and desperate.
Three young kids were over the moon with joy.
One man was inconvenienced.
The snow was just… snow. Part of the natural world, created by God. It happens. It has no motive, no agenda. It’s not out to get us, and it’s not anxious to please us.
But the way we experience it can be radically different from one person to the next.
As I looked around, I realized my neutrality was a blessing. I had a great opportunity here to enter into the experiences of others.
Empathy – To Suffer With
Empathy means to suffer with. When we have empathy, we allow ourselves to feel the emotions of others. We don’t just look at it, but we take it to heart.
Their suffering becomes my suffering.
Their joy becomes my joy.
With empathy, I live in their shoes. I feel their pain and sorrow. I feel their excitement and anticipation. I allow their emotions to become my emotions.
The reality is, we won’t all feel the same way about things. Weather, food, politics, news. It hits us all different ways, because its effects are different in each of our lives.
We all have different responsibilities, different needs, different tools and capabilities. We all have our unique strengths and weaknesses.
Something that may be a blessing in one person’s life may be a true hardship to another.
As I looked around at the people surrounding me, and their varied reactions to the snow, I realized this is a universal phenomenon. It’s everywhere and all the time.
A pregnancy test elicits the thrill of pleasure and the grip of fear.
A new job offers the joy of advancement, and the sorrow of a move.
A death of a loved one may open the doorway to heaven for them, while leaving a void of loss in our hearts.
And it’s not a question about which response is the right response. All of them are true. All of them are human. And all of them are an invitation to love and be loved.
Can we put our joy aside for a second to enter into someone’s sorrow?
Can we leave our cares at the door to share in someone’s joy?
Can we give them the gift of understanding, of unity, of letting them know they’re not alone?
Empathy calls us to do that. To worry about ice with the elderly neighbor. To be anxious about finding a warm safe place with the homeless man. To smile and laugh with the kids as the snow begins to fall. To commiserate with the husband about added responsibilities.
Empathy allows me to be drawn in to share in their life and their experiences in a very intimate way. It takes their emotions for my own.
Compassion – To Come Alongside
Compassion means to come alongside someone in their suffering. To allow myself to hurt with them. And mostly, to desire to alleviate their suffering.
Compassion gives us a fix-it attitude. It wants to lend a hand. It does what it can to make the suffering more bearable, to take it away if we can.
Compassion prompts me to send a sympathy card or a bouquet of flowers. It challenges me to give my time, to lend a hand. It asks of me. It demands that I act.
Can you give up your cozy morning to get out in the cold and get your neighbor’s mail for her? Will you stand in her doorway, your breath puffing from your mouth in the icy air, waiting for her to shuffle her way down the steps?
Will you do this to calm her fears?
Can you spare ten dollars for the man on the street corner? Will you give up your cup of coffee, your date night, your pizza delivery for him? Can you forsake the small comforts you cling to, in order to help him provide for his basic needs?
Will you do this to ease his anxiety?
Can you spare ten minutes to go outside and pelt snowballs at your kids? Will you abandon all reserve and flop in the snow, waving your arms and legs to create the biggest snow angel they’ve ever seen?
Will you do this to preserve their joy?
Can you make your husband his cup of coffee? Will you lend a hand with the chores? Can your small actions help him shoulder the added burdens of the day?
Will you do this to assuage his irritation?
Love Like the Trinity
Together, compassion and empathy call me to imitate Christ in his relationship to the trinity.
In the beginning was the Word,John 1:1
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
Compassion reminds me to come alongside the other.
Empathy allows me to put myself in their place emotionally.
With them. And one with them. In the Trinitarian love, the three persons are distinct, but they are united. They are in constant companionship with each other, and they are one with each other. It’s a mystery.
But we can enter into it.
We can take on the emotions of our neighbor. We can come alongside our neighbor. We can help our neighbor.
We can love them.
We can understand that we’re all different, unique. That our experiences separate us and define us. But that they also unite us, through the opportunity to step out of ourselves and take on the emotions of the other.
Look for God in the People Around You
Look around you.
Find someone who’s opinions, reactions, emotions, or feelings are different from yours.
Can you love them?
Can you practice empathy, feel their emotions? Can you allow yourself to suffer with them? Can you reach out and try to ease their pain?
Let your love for them become more perfect.
Let your love for them be more like the Trinity, today.
Unite yourself to them in empathy. Be with them in compassion.
See God there.
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