Empathy?

Here in Spain, the little ones are getting their first taste of this different and unsettling world outside of their home. Four days ago was the first time kids have been allowed outside since coronavirus hit the second week of March.

I’m trying to imagine what an 8-year-old thinks when they’re face-to-face with this for the first time: everyone in face masks, no friends to play with, empty streets, and forbidden playgrounds.

I didn’t have to imagine too long before I got a glimpse of what it might be like for them. On my walk home from the grocery store, I passed a mom with her daughter scooting along on a scooter. When the girl saw me, she hopped off her scooter, whimpered, and grabbed onto her mom’s leg. She could see only my eyes and not the smile I gave her. It must all be so strange and scary for the little ones. It was for me the first couple of weeks, too! I wanted to say to that little scooting girl “I understand! I know what it feels like to see all of this for the first time!”

I’ve been thinking about empathy.

It would seem that we should all have more empathy than ever now, right? Since almost no country is untouched, we are all living through coronavirus and quarantine and we can empathize; we can understand what each other is going through.

We say “I know what you mean…” and launch into how we totally get it because, of course, we are being affected by coronavirus, too.

We understand. Or at least we think we do, and I think that’s the problem.

True, we are all living under the effects of this crazy pandemic. But I think we are empathizing with others when we really have no way of understanding what they’re actually going through.

All of our lives are being dramatically affected by the same virus, but the way it plays out in each of our individual lives is radically different. We can’t even begin to compare one story to another. We can’t empathize as much as we think we can.

Some are working like crazy, others are suddenly jobless. Some are on lockdown, others are social distancing. Some have mental health challenges, others have physical challenges. Some have cancelled weddings, others have cancelled trips. Some have lost loved ones, others have been untouched. Some are barely coping emotionally, others are trucking right along.

I could go on, but you get the point.

We are all living through coronavirus but our lives are quite different and our hurts and struggles are as well. Let’s not pretend they’re very similar.

Less “I know, me too!” and “I know exactly how you feel.”

More “Wow, I’m so sorry, that stinks” and “Tell me what this is like for you.”

be a cheerleader

How can I become an individual whose very presence whispers worth to others?

Has someone ever made you realize that they believe in you much more than you believe in yourself? It exposes a lot of insecurity and self-doubt when you realize how much someone else believes you to be capable of.. Suddenly you realize they think you can, they think you’re worthy, they think you’re capable, they think you’ve got it. And you just don’t think so.

Truly believing in someone allows for failure. It says, “I am behind you, and I think you can do this. But because I care for you most of all, I will still be for you and be your cheerleader even if you feel as though you’ve failed.” I’m not sure what that looks like practically, but I want to figure out how to embody being cheerleaders and fans of other people.

“I believe in you.” Say it, show it, let them dream things up and then help them find the path. Show her what she’s capable of. Tell him he should try this thing, that he has a right to be here, to occupy this space. See in people what they cannot see in themselves, then draw it out, identify it, show it to them until they believe it themselves.

Be someone’s biggest fan in life.

Names have power

“Names have power, like magic spells. And all of a sudden it seemed to her that her stepmother and stepsisters had indeed transformed her into merely a creature of ash and toil.” – Cinderella

His tiny hand was raised in the air, waiting, itching to answer the question. I called him by name.

Considering I cross paths with over 600 students in any given month, learning names is basically an impossibility. Why then, I asked myself, did I know his name? His hand went down when he heard his name and another student whispered, “That’s so cool that Rebecca knows his name!”

I realized that I only knew his name because he’s one of the rowdy ones. One of the talkative, can’t-sit-still, doesn’t-do-his-work sort of children. And his name is frequently called because of that.

He answered my question perfectly, beaming from ear to ear, while I thought about NAMES.

I wondered what other names he had been given other than the one on his birth certificate. Annoying? Trouble? Lazy? And I thought how sad it would be if he thought those names were the truth about him.

We love to call things by a name. We give children names that they’ll keep for a lifetime, we give dogs names when we decide we want them to be ours. We give ourselves additional names that we think fit, like athlete or lazy or driven-student. And other people give us names that they think we need, like mom or worthless or friendly or weird or smart.

We undoubtedly end up living into those names, whether or not they are connected to our real identity.

We live into the expectations that come to us in the form of names.

Names mean something. It means something when someone calls out our name. It means something when someone gives us a name or when we take a name upon ourselves. We take on the nature of our names, because they have power.

It’s confusing when people are calling you all sorts of things, assuming you are something, expecting you to be something, making you into something you are not. Before you know it, if you’re not careful, all those expectations and names have worked their way into your identity.

We could assimilate those names people give us, and continue to give bad names away to other humans as if people are unbreakable. Or we could speak truth into our own souls and into the souls of others.

I can call out and remind myself and others of the true names – the true identity that I have in Christ.

But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!” (Isaiah 43:1)

the here-and-now you

Your worth has nothing to do with what you will become. I grew up watching Mister Rogers and had the chance to see him again when I saw the movie “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Mister Rogers unequivocally made children feel appreciated, but people can be appreciated for all sorts of reasons. The movie notes that, “In this country, children are appreciated for what they will be.” It’s more true than not, isn’t it? We say we should invest in children because they’re the future leaders and because they will be the next generation responsible for our planet and because we never know which child is destined to become the next great president or musician. All of it is true – we are training up our children to be the next leaders, to care well for our planet, and we certainly don’t know which of the little hands we hold will be the next to change the world. Those things aren’t meaningless but they aren’t the main reasons we should invest into children. Everyone has the tendency to appreciate other people for who they will become or what they will do and we often appreciate or give value to children for who they will become in the future. Instead, can we appreciate them for who they are now, no strings attached, not looking ahead to what they will offer or the greatness they will contribute? Their future potential is deeply valuable and worthy of investment but it is not their worth. We look forward with great expectation to what these little twinkling eyes will one day become, but their future self is not why we love them now. We love them because they are important as the humans they are now, just as every human is important as they are. We can encourage and invest and cheer each other on so we do reach our potential (as we should) while at the same time acknowledging the innate value and importance that remains no matter what the future has for us. We push each other on toward the best we can be, not because we love only that future version but because we love the here-and-now version.

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We look forward with great expectation to what these little twinkling eyes will one day become, but their future self is not why we love them now. We love them because they are important as the humans they are now, just as every human is important as they are.