Friday, my husband I returned from a two-week-long adventure. I had told you that the third week of January, I would share with you what God has been faithfully teaching me especially in regard to my marriage. I figured that our 40 hour road trip would be a fishbowl-view, magnifying all the issues and instances of conflict in marriage. Dousing one’s self and one’s spouse in extreme family situations, bookended by 20 hours in the car in each direction has unlimited potential to round off rough edges and polish one’s personality and patience into perfection or oblivion.
With the utmost humility, I am pleased to announce that due to the Holy Spirit’s intervention, the Son’s intercession and the Father’s grace, we have emerged stronger than before! Thanks be to God. God taught me numerous things over these past two weeks but I think I can best sum them all up in three words: Esteem, Endurance and Empathy.
Let’s start with Empathy. I just discovered the primary difference between the friendships that I really enjoy and those that are peripheral to my joy and personal growth. Imagine a conversation that goes like this.
Person 1: HI! I’m so glad I caught you! I’m going to be driving for the next three hours, so I thought I catch up with you.
Person 2: That’s great, thanks for calling.
Person 1: So tell me, how are you?
Person 2: I’m great, blah, blah, blah…. By the way, what’s going on in your life?
Person 1: Oh nothing. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to go.
That may not be a self-explanatory example, but what if that conversation repeats itself every single time Person 1 calls you? They are minutely interested in your life, knowing your struggles and daily details, but as soon as you seek reciprocation, they curl into a spiny little ball and roll desperately away from you? You just bared your soul, or at the very least, shared from your true self, and yet they repeatedly prove that they don’t trust you enough to do the same.
I have a couple of friends like this. Then, there are the relationships that go both ways. When I pour out my heart – full of joy or sorrow – they respond from their very depths. Empathy. They know how I feel. Even if they have never experienced my exact circumstances, they are comfortable wearing my shoes for the course of a conversation.
I have always prided myself (ooohh… that’s a no no) on being a good friend. I love to listen to people. I long to help bear their burdens. I’ve even joked that I must have the phrase, “Talk to me,” written across my forehead. But that’s not enough. We’ve all heard that, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Very true, but is there such a thing as too much listening?
Where do the ears meet the heart? Can the heart express itself through facial expressions or words of self-divulgence?
It’s easy to sympathize; to let someone poor themselves out in the space between us and then respond with, “I’m so sorry.” But, I submit to you that your friendship will go deeper, your words be heard more clearly and your own heart be more buoyed by joy, if instead of sympathizing, you Empathize. Be vulnerable. Share your joys and pains. Let the cards away from your chest. Relax your poker face. Be willing to be known.
After all, isn’t that what Jesus did?