Have you ever gotten involved in something with the intention of being helpful or just joining in, only to see it turn into a complete disaster?
I can remember in the 7th grade sitting in the back of math class. Three students sitting near me (one to my left, one directly in front of him, and one directly in front of me) were having a great time throwing tiny balls of paper at each other. Envision what it looks like when you wad up the paper that comes off a straw – that’s the size.
They were pretty good at doing it when our teacher, Mrs. Ross, wasn’t looking. Anytime that she was busy solving the next problem or helping a student in a different part of the room, a few more would get thumped or flicked between them.
It didn’t take long for me to decide how much fun it would be to have four playing this game instead of three. At that age, what I made up for with passionate involvement and being “all in”, I sometimes lacked in being able to curb my enthusiasm or showing a proper amount of discretion. After a few flicks and trying to lay low, I lost myself in the moment. Just as I zinged off my most accurate shot, wouldn’t you know that Mrs. Ross had moved to help a student only a few feet away from me. She immediately grabbed me by me right ear, and walked me out the door into the hall. The next few minutes probably went as you might imagine.
I didn’t get involved to make things worse. Or to ruin what they had going on.
Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar know just what I’m talking about.
If you aren’t familiar with the story of Job in the Old Testament, stop and read the first two chapters then come back. . . .
Job had lost so much in such a short amount of time. His family (except for his wife) and practically all of his earthly wealth and possessions were gone and his physical health left him sitting in a pile of ashes scratching at his sores with a broken pot.
Just in time to save the day, his three aforementioned friends come in for guidance.
But, instead of bringing comfort, encouragement, and presence – all what someone in a low place really needs – they did what we often do. They decided to provide unwarranted (and on top of that, really crappy) advice. And pep talks that were slanted with their version of empathy, which didn’t really use empathy at all.
Trying to help a friend usually starts with the best of intentions, just like me jumping into what looked like a load of fun in the back of a 7th grade classroom. But, before telling stories of how you once went through something similar or trying to pound sage advice into that person, try figuring out what it might be to experience it from their point of view. You know, walk a mile in their shoes.
In a line from one of his earliest songs, Michael W. Smith says, “the road of good intentions doesn’t lead to anywhere.”
Empathy is both super simple and hard to do all at the same time. But, empathy is the key component to changing how we interact with others. It takes our friendships from surface-level and self-satisfying to being able to build transformational relationships.
Personally, I hope in the future to be less “helpful” and more empathetic.
He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:4