Monday, September 30, 2013

Empathy’s Expression: Turning Pain into Progress

By Amanda DeWitt

My heart sank as I heard her news. Bed rest. For the second time in two months a friend was told she’d spend the remainder of her pregnancy lying in a hospital bed. No more nursery decorating. No more pre-baby dates. No more homemade meals.

I’ve never experienced pregnancy or bed rest, yet I felt her pain. For the first two years of marriage, I struggled with a debilitating autoimmune condition. I spent countless days lying on the sofa. We made numerous doctor visits. I fought plenty of fears. Through the struggles, I learned that empathy not only feels but also acts in ways that transform us and others.

Prayer: Empathy’s Ache
Our tears teach us to weep for others. Our aches remind us to bring the wounded into God’s presence. Through prayer we plead for comfort and point the hurting back to their ultimate hope.

When my friends were placed on bed rest, I remembered how my husband used to place his hand on my back every morning before he left for work and utter a silent appeal over my sickly, half-asleep frame. His persistence strengthened my faith and bolstered my hope.  

As my friends’ situation came to my mind each day, I’d ask God to protect and sustain. I couldn’t heal their bodies or quell their fears, but I could take their burdens to the One who heals and tell them I was praying daily.

Presence: Empathy’s Compassion
We can pray from a distance. But we dispense compassion up close. Empathy calls us to move from the peripheral to be present with another. We listen, weep, and laugh, allowing our presence to provide the comfort.

I still recall the assurance another’s presence afforded during my endless doctor visits. My mom’s company offered a much-needed distraction as we drove to another appointment. Her support also challenged me to fill the gaps for my friends.

Afternoons were the worst. After their morning doctor rituals ended, they’d watch the clock until their husbands arrived from work. Since I office from home, I could arrange my availability. I’d show up midafternoon, bring strawberry frozen yogurt, and listen from the pleather hospital chair.

Practicality: Empathy’s Service
Empathy presses us closer, challenging us to meet tangible needs. Flowers for a stark room. Baked chicken for growling stomachs. Tissues for a tearful goodbye. Our service sustains as a friend adjusts to new realities and acclimates to new surroundings. 

After two weeks in the hospital, one friend longed for home cooking. My husband and I have eaten many meals with this couple, so we decided to set up a dinner party in their hospital room. Somehow garlic chicken and sweet corn touched a place inside of us and created a strong shared memory.

My friends assure me that they will be there for me when I need their prayers, presence and practical help. So pain turns to progress — both for us and for others.


Amanda DeWitt serves as the Assistant Editor for Dallas Family Magazine and works as a freelance writer, conference speaker, and contributor to Tapestry ( She’s also worked as a copywriter for a global fundraising firm and as an associate on a megachurch staff. She holds a M.A. from Dallas Theological Seminary. 

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for those words. I too have improved in the area of giving, service and empathy over the past decade as I've dealt with increasingly debilitating pain in my own life. This past 4-6 weeks, it seems to be getting worse almost by the day. Today, in fact, I was forced to work from home because I couldn't do the most simple of daily tasks. It took just over an hour to get out of the bed, get undressed and (the hardest part) get into the shower --- that silly little 5" step-up into the shower felt like Mt Everest this morning. And then, once dressed and ready, I discovered I couldn't make my body accomplish the task of walking down three steps to get out the door. I'm sure having a spouse or friend there to say 'you can do this' (or to call 9-1-1 if I fell on my face - haha), I'd feel better, more capable, less humiliated by my apparent 'weakness'. But it is in that terrifying, albeit momentary, thought of "I cannot..." that the Holy Spirit whispers, "It is in your weakness that My strength is made known. Trust in Me! I am sufficient for whatever you need." And then in my Inbox, appears your article! :) We serve a gracious Most High, God!!!