Tag Archives: empathy

What I’m Learning From Unanswered Prayer

For 62 years, prayer has been an indispensable part of my life. Admittedly, it has often been either formal or hurried, weak or stumbling. I’m no model of a praying Christian. But like many believers I’ve often pondered the mystery of unanswered prayer.

After all, Jesus said, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (John 16:24). But Lord, why didn’t you answer my plea for X’s salvation or my healing? Oh, I know the standard answer; “God always answers, either yes, no, or wait awhile.” I believe there is at least another reason.

Let me give you some personal background that has led me to this conclusion. Five or six months ago the date was set for my knee surgery. We immediately began to pray for results that did not include complications, as surgery on the other knee had been accompanied by problems. The surgery took place. The surgeon was pleased. Everything seemed good. But shortly we realized that it was infected. Dealing with the infection delayed healing for some time. Why Lord did this happen? Was the answer to our prayers a simple, no? And why did you not answer our plea?

In the months that followed, prayer for ability to sleep at night was also put on the unanswered prayer pile. What’s going on Lord? Do you not want my joy to be full?

Let me be clear. As a couple, Mary Helen and I have no right to complain to God. He has blessed us in abundant and unusual ways. And my quibble about pain and sleeplessness is minor compared to those who suffer with cancer or debilitating diseases or deal with a tragedy. I’m just trying to understand the many invitations in Scripture to bring our requests to our heavenly Father with the assurance of an answer. So what am I learning?

PATIENCE: God has laid bare my impatience. Why do I have to keep relearning lessons about patience? Have I taken my supposed maturity for granted? Unfortunately, for most of us, patience is something we have to keep relearning. And we can’t develop it without going through trying situations. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. Knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:3).

EMPATHY: I’m also learning empathy for others, especially those who suffer. This will be a hard lesson. I’m not a very empathetic person. I don’t like hospitals. I don’t even want to go near them. But many in my age group have to visit doctors and hospitals often. And each of us need encouragement, comfort and love. I’ve got a lot to learn about compassion and without it I’m not much use in the kingdom. Paul reminds us of a related reason God sends tribulations into our lives. “The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Cor. 1:3). We face troubles so we can understand and empathize with the troubles of others.

WHERE TO GO FOR HELP: I’m also trying to remember that I should lean on God for help more than on my own grit, experience, gifts, and abilities. During my missionary and pastoral career, I often faced tasks beyond my ability. During those years several key verses encouraged me to believe that the very unlikely could happen. One was, “I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me” (Phil. 4:13). Another pointed me to the source of help. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). God has worked in wonderful ways down through the years. But I wonder today, how much was His work and how much was me trying to accentuate my own efforts and abilities. I’m realizing more clearly, that when Jesus says, “you can do nothing,” He really means it. We may be able to build a chicken coop or send a man to the moon, but we cannot accomplish anything positive for the Kingdom without His help. And before we realize that we have face to situations where nothing we do works.

FAITH: Christians know that faith is foundational. In the case of a leper and a centurion (in Matthew 8) who came to Jesus, their faith led them to trust him for healing. But faith, as in the case of Paul’s thorn in the flesh, does not always lead to healing. Abraham and the other patriarchs trusted God’s promises of a glorious future—not for them but their descendants. I wonder if for many of us today, faith requires us to trust God in the dark. Trusting God even when our requests are not met. Walking with God in apparent darkness, sure of our ultimate destination. We are to, “walk by faith not by sight.” We need to be able to say, “though He slay me, [doesn’t answer my prayer] yet will I trust him.”

Trusting God during periods when He seems distant or silent is not something unusual. Think of slaves trusting God in their misery. Think of Christians wallowing in foxholes during wartime. Think of Christians waiting for healing in cancer wards.

Why doesn’t God always answer our prayers? Often it is because He knows that we will learn more about Christian living and walking by faith if He doesn’t respond to our every request. When He seems silent, He is probably working to make us more Christ-like in patience, faith, compassion, and a host of other godly characteristics. Lord, help me to learn more and grumble less. Help me to accept these tough but necessary lessons in discipleship.

How do you respond to this blog? Do you agree or disagree? Do you have something to add to this meditation?

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The Crabby Old Lady

When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a small hospital near Dundee, Scotland, it was believed that she had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through her meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital. One nurse took her copy to Ireland.

The old lady’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the North Ireland Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on her simple, but eloquent, poem. And this little old Scottish lady, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this “anonymous” poem winging across the Internet

Crabby Old woman
What do you see, nurses?
What do you see?
What are you thinking
When you’re looking at me?

A crabby old woman,
Not very wise,
Uncertain of habit,
With faraway eyes?

Who dribbles her food
And makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice,
“I do wish you’d try!”

Who seems not to notice
The things that you do,
And forever is losing
A stocking or shoe?

Who, resisting or not,
Let’s you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding,
The long day to fill?

Is that what you’re thinking?
Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse,
You’re not looking at me.

I’ll tell you who I am
As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding,
As I eat at your will.

I’m a small child of ten
With a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters,
Who love one another.

A young girl of sixteen
With wings on her feet
Dreaming that soon now
A lover she’ll meet.

A bride soon at twenty,

My heart gives a leap,

Remembering the vows

That I promised to keep.

At twenty-five now,

I have young of my own,

Who need me to guide

And a secure happy home.

A woman of thirty,

My young now grown fast,

Bound to each other

With ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons

Have grown and are gone,

But man’s beside me

To see I don’t moan.

At fifty once more,

Babies play round my knee,

Again we know children

My loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me,

My husband is dead,
I look at the future,
I shudder with dread.

For my young are all rearing
Young of their own,
And I think of the years
And the love that I’ve known.

I’m now an old woman
And nature is cruel;
‘Tis jest to make old age
Look like a fool.

The body, it crumbles,
Grace and vigor depart,
There is now a stone
Where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass
A young girl still dwells,
And now and again,
My battered heart swells.

I remember the joys,
I remember the pain,
And I’m loving and living
Life over again.

I think of the years
All too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact
That nothing can last.

So open your eyes, people,
Open and see,
Not a crabby old woman;
Look closer . . . see ME!!

=========================================================

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might
brush aside without looking at the young soul within . . we will all,
one day, be there, too! In fact it might be me.

One’s Personal Fog Index

When we plunge into a dense fog, only what is immediately around us remains visible. Objects at some distance, depending on the density of the fog, disappear. In the same way, personal events tend to distract us from noticing what is going on beyond our own person or family. It is a very unusual person who remains concerned about refugees in Lebanon when they’ve just lost their job or received a diagnosis of cancer.

Since my knee surgery a month ago, I’ve been dealing with discomfort, sleepless Sunrisenights and exercise that leaves me sore. This experience almost completely obscured my perspective on world events and the needs of others. The disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines plane hardly left a blip on my consciousness. The greater the intensity of one’s own immediate experience, the less aware we become of events in the world at large—even the concerns of friends.

My surgery is classed as routine. It is not to be compared with other, more serious procedures. Nor would I in any way compare my discomfort with those who suffer unremitting pain or the long-term and terrible effects of cancer. In no way can my experience be compared with those recovering from any natural disaster. Many, many people are worse off than me. But that is hard to remember when I’m trying to make my knee bend or sleep through the night. One’s own experience tends to throw a dense fog over what is external to one’s life, blotting out perspectives on others and their suffering.

This all sounds selfish and callous and yet it is natural to be fogged in when personal stress is highest. Our awareness and concern for others tends to shrink as we become absorbed in our own pain regimen.

What is true of the effect of pain and suffering is especially true of selfishness. We are all concerned about our own welfare, our needs, our goals, our hopes. And the more self-absorbed we are the less we perceive the concerns of other. Selfishness envelops us in a fog of our own making. Selfishness is terribly blinding and short-sighted.

Cormorants in flightSomehow we need to find a way to dissipate the fog that hides from our eyes the needs of others. We need to develop some way of maintaining an unselfish perspective that helps us rise above our immediate circumstances.

As Christians, we realize that only Christ, through the indwelling Holy Spirit, can overcome our natural self-absorption. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”(Phil 2:4). We need to ask God to help us lift up eyes of compassion to see those who suffer beyond us, even in Syria, in Iran, or in North Korea. Empathy does not come naturally. We must learn it. Our default position should be concern for others driven by empathy and compassion.

While being fogged in by our own concerns or trials may be natural, it should not be the reaction of a follower of Christ. What is your fog index? What is mine?

Christmas means, God can empathize

Sadly, when I was younger, I didn’t have a lot of understanding for those who hobbled around using canes. I wasn’t unkind. I just couldn’t relate. I walked fast, hiked, and climbed hills with verve. Aging has changed my perspeWalking stickctive. Now I’m the one who hobbles around using a walking stick—I still can’t call it a cane. My knees are shot. Replacement surgery is on the horizon.

Christmas, the coming of the Son of God as a baby in a manger, is about God expressing empathy for our human condition enough to live 33 years among us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin”(Heb.4:15). “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”(Heb.2:18).

Winterloghm, croppedAll of us find it difficult to understand those in situations that we haven’t experienced. In a recent conversation, someone talked about their antipathy towards cities, Toronto in particular. Personally, Mary Helen and I love living in the countryside. But we also love to immerse ourselves in the multi-ethnic nature of Toronto. Hearing different languages, seeing different races— to us is a taste of what heaven will be like. We can even understand why many prefer the convenience of city life with its transit, shopping and proximity to great museums, art galleries, and concert halls.

On the other hand we understand why many love country living with its fields and wild turkeys and big skies and wonderful woodlands. We’ve been there. Of course, not everyone loves the woodlands. I’ve heard of one man who said, “If you’ve seen one tree you’ve seen them all.” What? Oaks and pines and ironwood and poplar and…?

During the same recent conversation mentioned earlier, one person said he had ???????????????????????????????no sympathy for Muslims. We can understand why Muslims antagonize people in today’s climate. Fortunately, we’ve had happier experiences among them. Mary Helen and I, having lived 16 years in an overwhelmingly Muslim country, have more empathy. Most Muslims—the Taliban excluded—long for the same things we do: education for their children, economic security, basic human freedoms, and a safe place to live.

It’s human to react, express puzzlement or disapproval of something or someone we don’t understand. Few of us understand the conditions under which our native people live because we haven’t walked a mile in their moccasins.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt Christmas God sent His Son among us to save us from our sins, but also to express empathy with our human condition. “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who, being in very nature God…made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness…became obedient to death—even death on a cross”(Phil. 2:4-8)!

So as we read the Christmas story, let’s remind ourselves of the lengths Christ went to so he could empathize with our condition. And let’s express a lot more understanding of others.