Christmas Empathy or Apathy?

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?–Henry David Thoreau

Bill Wilson wrote a great article in the recent issue of Nurturing Faith Journal entitled “The Noise in our head and in our life” in which he made reference to this wonderful quote. His words prompted some of my own musings relating to transition and the holiday season.

I’m spending my first Christmas in Clinton in a few days. Looking back on the beginning of this year, there’s no way I could have imagined finishing it in East Tennessee. My family and I packed up 12 years of memories from life in the Ozarks this summer, and transitioned into a new community.

Of course, I’m not the only person to have moved due to a new job opportunity. People do it all the time. And, in fact, I’m truly grateful for the privilege of being part of a new family of faith in a beautiful part of the country. I’m thankful for the hospitality and warmth directed towards Lori, our three children, and me. Perhaps being Pastor of First Baptist Church offers incentive to folks wanting to put their best foot forward in welcoming us. In ministry, these early days are called “the honeymoon period.”

The excitement of being in a new place doesn’t negate the challenges of adjusting to a new life with new people. I will always remember how my younger two children (my oldest is in college) responded to the news of a pastor search committee visiting their mom and dad. It was a difficult time for time for them, as their own lives were uprooted and the emotions of leaving friends, schools, and a church poured out of them.

Over time, however, I’ve seen them engage and adapt as best they can to new people, places, and a new life. They have been so courageous in getting involved in a new school and new church; this has not been easy for them but I admire them for their willingness to stretch themselves. They have gone through numerous changes, and I am so proud of them.

My family and I are still adjusting to a new community, and as a Pastor still in his first six months, I’m learning about traditions, expectations, and how things have been done. I don’t want to move too quickly and have been intentional about building relationships. That’s been my primary focus.

The longer I am here and the more I learn about the people, the more I realize that hopes, dreams, and fears are pretty much the same as they were with the folks in Missouri.

Just this past week, one woman’s world was rocked with the news that doctors found a tumor in her six year old granddaughter. The little girl had gone in for a check up related to other symptoms. This wasn’t the news the family was expecting to hear.

There’s an older man who goes back into the hospital repeatedly to deal with a problem in his leg; there’s an issue with blood flow and there’s the possibility of amputation. Apparently doctors can only perform the procedure to open up the arteries so many times, and this is the only option left.

Several members of our church staff are facing personal challenges relating to the anniversary of the death of a spouse or child. The holidays make the pain of loss more acute for them, as they bravely lead our people while managing the emotions within them. And, while this goes on, we look forward to and eagerly await the arrival of a new baby for a married couple on staff. The church was thrilled at the news of what will take place in their life and our church’s life over the next few months.

My point in offering these musings is to remind us that the people around us are going through joys, difficulties, uncertainty, and challenges that we don’t always know about. We get busy with our own stuff and can become impatient with the people around us. Sometimes people act a certain way for a reason: they are importing their previous life experiences into how they deal with the present.

Let’s take time to be sensitive to the people around us. Sometimes we want to focus on our own problems and become apathetic to the concerns of others. We don’t always factor in what motivates people, yet being attentive and listening might just be the gift that people are looking for. Empathy can be a powerful blessing to offer someone during this time of year.

An adaption of this old adage is true: “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a secret battle.”

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