Thursday, May 27, 2010

Trading Shoes

"Experience breeds empathy. It's hard to judge the muddy when your feet are dirty too." --Jon Acuff

Have you ever said something in a sincere attempt to be helpful or comforting to someone, only to find out later you possibly could not have said a stupider thing?

Case in point: A number of years ago a friend of mine gave birth prematurely to her son. In an attempt to be helpful, I mentioned she was fortunate to be so close to the hospital as when my mom had me three months early, the hospital was a two-hour drive away. It wasn't until said friend was telling someone else in a group I was part of that it's very hard to leave your baby in the hospital no matter how close the hospital is that I realized the idiocy of my supposedly helpful comment.

(insert face palm here)

Not exactly a moment where I was being a great reflection of Christ now, was it?

I could give many more examples of where my attempts at helpfulness were anything but, but that would become tedious, and well, honestly, rather embarrassing for me. The point is, it's often hard to know the right thing to say or do unless you've been in a similar situation. It's easy to give advice when you're not in the thick of things.

On the other hand, I'm not saying we need to have shared someone's experience before we have any right or authority to speak into a situation or to be able to show some empathy. I think the lesson I'm finally starting to learn is I don't have to try and fix everything. Often times the best things I (and we) can do are a) listen, b) pray for guidance, and c) take a step back and ask myself what I would find helpful if I was in the other person's shoes.

Another example: My dad just went through a longer-than-planned hospital stay that was all kinds of crazy (and I mean 'crazy crazy', not 'regular crazy'). Long-ish story short, I was able to step back while my mom was venting her frustrations and remember my own frustrations when my husband went through chemotherapy a couple of years back. And rather than my usual “Fix it!” setting springing into gear, I was able instead to just listen and admit I didn't have the answers as to why things were working out the way they were. And when I was alone, I took a moment to pray for God to help us and guide us.

It's not always easy or convenient to take our shoes off and put on someone else's . . . but I'm starting to realize the short-term inconvenience reaps long-term benefits for all those involved. And it allows us to be less of a 'fun house mirror' reflection of Jesus at the same time, which is really the best thing of all.

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