Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pros and Cons of Empathy

By Mary DeMuth

I had the privilege of taking the Strengths Finder when we were church planters in France. I remember three of my strengths today:

1. Achiever. (Oh how this makes sense! Those of you who have read my writing or heard me speak know I tend to equate my worth with what I produce.

2. Communicator. (Yep, this makes sense. I'm almost a hyper-communicator, written and spoken.)

3. Empathy. (I actually think this one was #2, something that surprised the person who administered the test. "You don't see a lot of achieving empathizers," he said.)

Empathy is where I get in trouble. While I love that God has made me empathetic, it does have its negatives.

Positive: I can meet someone and almost always assess their emotional state.Negative: If someone is distraught, it's hard for me to get beyond that. I tend to take in their pain, feel it, and then never let go.Positive: I listen well and help people feel understood.

Negative: I can't get a person's sad story out of my head. It replays. It affects my mood.

Positive: I can see potential problems and discern people's hearts in a few meetings.

Negative: This can make me overly cautious around people, or I can enmesh myself.

Here's the odd part of empathy for me. Although it endears me to folks, and folks to me, it can be isolating. And it can break my heart. Proverbs 4:23 says: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

When I receive people's family secrets for My Family Secret, I cringe. For the moment, I am with the person, feeling the pain, dying inside, wishing and praying for healing. It's hard for me to shrug the pain off. Yesterday when I was a guest on Moody Midday Connection, we received three calls, all very, very hard to hear. Tales of abuse. Unmentionable pain. Broken lives. In the aftermath of the interview, I received several emails of folks sharing their broken hearts, their fractured stories. I couldn't shake the sadness. I kept it to myself. And I felt alone, carrying a burden way too heavy.I need to guard my empathetic heart. (And please hear me when I say I'm not 100% empathetic. I fail in this area also).

I need to throw my burdens at Jesus' feet. And I need to learn how to cast others' burdens there as well. Only then will my load lighten.

But even as I type this, I wonder. How must Jesus feel? He possesses the most empathy on earth and heaven. Hebrews 4:15 says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” He understands. He shoulders. He knows. He’s been here. What must it be like to be Jesus? He knows EVERY painful story of every single human being. Even the secret stories. And he graciously bears them all.

My own inability to bear the weight just makes me love him more.

Mary DeMuth is an author and speaker who loves to help people turn trials to triumphs. She lives in Texas with her husband and three kids. Find out more at Twitter: @MaryDeMuth, Facebook: You can find the My Family Secrets blog referenced in this article at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Elegance is Overrated

By Helen Lee

I am quite possibly the clumsiest person on the planet. The first time I tried to park our family’s car in the garage, I drove it into the side of the house instead. (And then I proceeded to do it AGAIN when I backed up and started over.) I had to walk out on an ice rink to give flowers to the winners of a hockey tournament and even though I told myself every step of the way, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. DON’T FALL!”—well, you can guess what happened.

No, the words “graceful” and “balance” do not fit me well, whether it applies to physical coordination or “life” coordination. My life would likely qualify as being as unbalanced as you could imagine. For starters, I am a stay-at-home mom of three little boys. On top of that, I’m a homeschooling mom. I spend long days running a household while acting as my children’s teacher/music coach/cafeteria worker/janitorial staff. My life is entirely imbalanced…from a certain point of view.

In years past, this type of home-based weightiness stressed me out. I’d watch friends who were doing exciting things in their careers and lives, and I couldn’t help but be envious. Yes, I’d chosen the life I was leading, but I still longed to experience more of and do more for the world beyond the walls of my house. The possibility of balancing my life seemed as elusive and impossible as my being able to gracefully descend a flight of stairs in a glittering gown and 3-inch heels.

Then one day, I had a conversation with a wise friend, Grace Shim, who serves with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Thailand. As I recounted my feelings about the imbalance of my life, she made a comment I will never forget: “Helen, you don’t have to achieve balance every day or even every week. Think about achieving balance over the whole course of your life.”

That comment has helped me rethink my former notion of balance; that it’s not necessarily about having a 24-hour period neatly divided between God, home, work, church and other important areas. By necessity, some seasons of life will be more home-focused, or more church or work-focused, but there will indeed come a season that I will have freedom to engage in a broader range of activities.

In the meantime, I need to embrace the commitments I have made with an attitude of joy and gratitude. If I am staying true to the callings God has given me—and letting go of the rest—I can trust that he will bring all of those things I can’t do in my current stage of life to completion through his other servants in the world.

This, by the way, does not mean that I will never trip up in my efforts to maintain the particular weights in the balance of my own life. Nor does it mean that I will never feel out-of-sorts with the way my life is going at any particular time. But if I am striving to follow the Lord of the universe in my life choices, then I do not need to fear my inevitable stumbles along the way. And God knows with my proneness to ungraceful elegance, that is a very good thing.

Helen Lee is the author of The Missional Mom (Moody Publishers, January 2011). She and her family reside in Chicagoland. You can find out more about Helen and her book at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Running the Race

By: Lisa Littlewood

“Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it to the end,” I told myself at mile 11.
It was my first half marathon and while I had felt surprisingly strong for most of the race, the last couple of miles left my mind taunting me with doubts, “Was all the training enough? Do you really have it in you?”

But then I sensed another voice, God’s Spirit, speaking back; “The God who created you has placed within you the strength finish this race. Things are not always easy but in him ALL things are possible.”

Earlier this year when my younger sister, three months post-partum, challenged me to join her and several other mom friends in training for this race, I found pride kicking in. “If they can do it, so can I,” I decided. I mean, after all, I had always been the distance runner in the family.

What started as a pride thing quickly turned personal. I realized my reasons for committing to the race ran much deeper. As a young mother I was feeling overwhelmed by the day-to-day life of raising two small children. It felt like many of my own goals— professional, physical, emotional and spiritual— had drifted out of sight. So much sat undone: devotional books unread, essays unwritten, extra weight unshed and a house, on most days, unclean. I desired to invest more in ministry, but it all seemed unattainable and overwhelming.

I committed to the race because I wanted to finish something. I wanted a tangible challenge that I could complete—a challenge that when complete would potentially offer encouragement in the other areas of my life.

The author of Hebrews offers a picture of how we are to approach our lives-- a picture of a runner as a matter of fact. “Let us throw off everything that hinders,” the author says, “and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews is reminding us that whatever it is that is holding us back or wearing us down, it is our responsibility to ‘throw it off’ and fully embrace the race we are running, to throw these insecurities away and embrace God’s intentions for us.

God spoke to me quite a bit during my training. He showed me that where my strength may falter, his never does. He showed me that when I am tired I need to cling to him and he will provide the extra measure of endurance to finish the tasks before me.

Sometimes things get hardest towards the end, like for me at mile 11. We get tired, we lose perspective; we let our emotions take over. It is in these moments that we need to remind ourselves that he who started a good work in us WILL be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6).

By the time I got to mile 12 I had a renewed sense of hope and realized I was going to finish. In retrospect it was a good race. I’m thankful for the experience, for the ability, and for a God who provides endurance when we think ours is gone.

Lisa Littlewood is the busy mother of two pre-school age children who loves to run, write and read. Her active pursuits to blend her God-given passions (namely writing and encouraging other women) into her messy mothering days inspire many of her blog entries at