Last week I talked about being brought to an actual SEEING of my parents. That seeing led me to empathy for parents, and empathy is absolutely crucial to moving forward in this process. Without it, there’s no dealing, no healing and no God.
Empathy is, in essence, stepping into someone’s life to experience what they experience – walking a mile in their shoes, so to speak. It requires me to get completely off of my own self in order to focus on someone else for at least a moment. (Note: Empathy should not be confused with sympathy or pity, and it absolutely does NOT excuse someone from accountability.)
Empathy for my parents delivered a serious body blow to my bitterness. Stepping outside of me and into the lives of my parents changed how I saw them and how I saw me. It was a shock to glimpse myself from my parents’ perspectives. And it was impossible not to have compassion for them.
My parents were 21 years old when they started having kids, and by the time they were 32, they had seven children. Now, I was stressed out when my dog brought a friend home and he decided to stick around – and that’s just dogs! My imagination blacks out at the mere thought of being responsible for that many human beings at such a young age.
“Well, they chose to have that many kids, and if they couldn’t deal with it then they should have stopped. That’s on them.” That’s what I used to say about my parents. It’s exactly the kind of cruel thing that somebody says when she refuses to acknowledge her own mountain of destructive, unforgivable sin. I had chosen blindness by nursing bitterness, so I would not see all the forgiveness that I desperately needed. It was a wrenching and heart-rending repentance when I realized how cold and unforgiving and merciless I’d been toward my parents.
It was stepping outside of my own self that allowed me to see my life differently. What if I wasn’t just a victim? What if my suffering didn’t excuse how I treated other people? What if believing that I know best doesn’t make it so? Empathy for my parents prompted the big question: Have you so little need of forgiveness that you can afford to withhold it?
This was one of the biggest turns toward God that I experienced. I had been wallowing in my hurt for years, until it was all that I saw. Empathy lifted me out of my sty of bitterness, and my world shifted. I began to wonder if I really knew the whole truth of my story, and astonishingly enough, I thought that I might not. It was my first sane thought in years!
Proverbs 28:26 HCSB
The one who trusts in himself is a fool,
but one who walks in wisdom will be safe.