Confession time: Sometimes I am just so self-absorbed! My barometer of empathy rests on what it is I have personally gone through...and you know what? That is shameful!
I'm currently following three friends on the Caring Bridge site. If you are unfamiliar with that web site; it's a site where people who are dealing with life-threatening or life-altering diseases and medical conditions can set up a home page. Friends can follow their daily/weekly progress in a blog-esque sort of write up that is done by either the patient or a family member. There is also a personalized guestbook where friends can respond to the blog, add notes of encouragement, or any other written sentimentality that they wish.
Caring Bridge is a great innovation for communication between those who would otherwise not know the day-to-day happenings or be able to communicate as effectively with a friend /loved one who is facing huge physical and emotional challenges while going through difficult curative treatments or palliative care. It gives us a means to love out loud and show support.
This morning I signed into Caring Bridge and saw the names of the three people I am currently following. One with stage III Cancer, and two with Traumatic Head Injuries. I caught myself internally stepping back for a moment. The very scope of what these friends are facing has sort of brushed by me. I feel a sense of empathy. I'm ashamed to admit that I sometimes tune in to their painful, fearful, faithful and hopeful pages with a thought that sort of sounds like, "There but by the grace of God go I..." Geesh! How selfish!! From where does true empathy come? Must we HAVE to encounter the pain to understand it? -- YES! I believe we must.
Now, I'm not suggesting that I want Cancer...or that I desire to know what it is like to see the motionless body of my child lying in a bed; knowing that he is physically alive in all ways, but that after one year his brain is still trying to heal ENOUGH to allow him to acknowledge anything. But until I can prayerfully place myself into the uncomfortable shoes of these friends-- I can not show empathy. I can not take on their needs, and in intercession, bring them to the Throne of God.
I must connect with the pain. And in doing so-- feel the pain. Take on the pain. Embrace the pain. Through the pain, will come the abandonment of human strength and the beginning of our reliability on the strength of God. It is a brokenness that we, as prayer partners, need to feel to adequately pray for the person we have chosen (or have been asked) to pray for. All other prayer, while good, is not personal. It is general.
Throughout the last few years I have come to think of prayer--true prayer--to be a workout! When we take a person's needs to the Father, perhaps we SHOULD be exhausted afterward. I think I finally realize why. Maybe it's because, for just a moment, we are able to put on that empathetic cloak of pain; illness; hopelessness; fear; or despair in order to stand in the gap for them, in prayer. It's uncomfortable. It's something that at times I can't get off quickly enough. It just hurts! It is in those moments we can truly see what our dear friends and family are going through-- and it reminds us that they can not take off that pain. It is theirs for an entire season!--And only God knows how long that season will last.
I encourage all of us, as the Body of Christ, to take prayer seriously. Not to make the statement, "I'll pray for you" just a rhetorical Christian response...but rather a promise to take action.
Step into the gap.