Written by cycleguy on April 2nd, 2013

Bill’s definition: Empathy is the willingness to crawl into and see life through another’s skin.

I am working (translated: very slowly) my way through Al Mohler’s book, The Conviction to Lead.  It is not a quick read.  In his chapter on “Leaders are Speakers” he tells the following story.  It is verbatim:

One of the greatest speeches of all time was given by another English monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. She spoke to her assembled troops gathered at Tilbury in 1588 as the nation anticipated the disaster of invasion by the Spanish Armada.  Elizabeth knew that her troops were horribly outnumbered, and so did they.  The army also believed it was weakened by the fact that the monarch was a woman, and  there were fears for Elizabeth’s personal safety.  The queen ignored those warnings and rode to the front of her troops on a warhorse, wearing armor.  To the army she declared:

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonor shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

A strong wind later blew the Spanish armada to bits on Europe’s rocky coastlines, and Elizabeth’s army never had to fight the Spanish on British soil.  But Elizabeth won the hearts of her people forever with the speech.  It was an exquisite display of leadership and was undoubtedly the greatest speech of Elizabeth’s long reign.  (pp 125-126)

I couldn’t help but picture the scene of William Wallace at the field of Banockburn from the movie Braveheart, or Aragorn’s speech at the Black Gate of Mordor as I read that scene/speech.

And while it is obviously used by Mr. Mohler to bring “flesh” to his chapter, I would like to take another angle…the angle of empathy.  The queen literally dons armor and rides a warhorse to the front of the lines to indicate to her troops that she is with them and will fight alongside them.  ‘Course she doesn’t belong there, but who notices?  Who cares?  She identified with her troops/her people in a moment of great need.

That, of course, is what people need.  They need flesh and blood identifying with them in their need.  Not turning away.  Not ignoring them.  Not pretending they don’t exist.  In other words, they need us to be Jesus to them.  Now, there is a novel thought!  Not talking;  but acting.  Not preaching; but reaching.

Do you find it hard to empathize?  Who can you do so with today? 


14 Comments so far ↓

  1. Daniel says:

    I pray every day that the Lord would keep me ever mindful of the needs of others …. and that he would give me the strength to act on that mind-full!

  2. On tests I score pretty high on empathy. I’m not sure if that translates into real life, but I work on it. I want the folks on my team to feel that I empathize with them.

  3. Eileen says:

    A great analogy, Bill. People need us to be Jesus to them. That’s what will stick with people most.

  4. jeff says:

    I think lifes experiences often dictate the degree of empathy we have towards others. I am not sure religion can quite give us the same sort of insight. It is easier to be empathetic toward people in poverty if we have lived in poverty. Or empathy for someone that has to care for a disabled relative if we too have experienced it.
    We need to “Walk a mile in their shoes” or at least have a feel for that before we can feel the pain or difficulty someone else is dealing with. It’s not easy. We need to stop and think before we form our opinions about others and how we might help or at least not hurt with misplaced words or deeds.
    It is often little things that make a big difference, Good or Bad. We spend way too much time on our own little problems to sometimes understand the impact we have on others or could have if we just think about others instead of ourselves so much.
    Thanks for the reminder Bill.

    • cycleguy says:

      You are right Jeff. Those in a situation or have been in one can often relate much better than one who hasn’t. Walking a mile in one’s shoes takes time and effort-both of which may are unwilling to give. You hit the crux of the matter by saying we spend way too much time on our own little problems. Thanks for the comment Jeff.

  5. floyd says:

    “Not preaching; but reaching.” That sums it up quite well. Knowing that others will be with us in tough times does lift a spirit. “Greater love hath no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”

    When we are willing to get dirty or injured in the process of helping others, we are the hands of our Father. Isn’t it amazing how the greatest people in history were willing to die for the cause of justice and good has prevailed. Even now the enemies of true right and wrong that is written in every human heart are striking at the souls and battle in which they cannot win. Empathy is a good place to start…

    • cycleguy says:

      Good reference with “greater love…” Being willing to get our hands dirty is important if we want to reach people in even the slightest way.

  6. Betty Draper says:

    One of the reason our mission now uses people like Ace and I as Member Care reps is that we have been to “many there’s” in our years living overseas. Couples coming home want someone to listen to them and not judge them. The biggest part of our ministry is listening. This means the missionary does not have to stop their flow of words to explain every sentence.

    Last night at our bible study one of the ladies opened up to me when she learned a little about my growing up years. Her husband is in prison for molesting her children. My hugs were better then any words…she just need to talk and not be told what to do.

    The value of getting older is we do have tons of life experiences that our God wants to use. Ace and both love listening to those 80 and 90 year olds former missionaries. We have never talked to one who said they regretted giving their lives to be used to reach the lost. No matter how young or old we are what ever experience we have, God wants to use it to help others. Great post brother…

    • cycleguy says:

      I think it is wise to use people like you and Ace for missionary couples who are sort of in a state of shock. 🙂 Glad you hugged that young mom. You are right. That means more than all the words you might speak.

  7. tcavey says:

    I completely agree with you. People need to see LOVE in ACTION! Jesus didn’t just tell people how to have a better life, He showed it, He gave it, He modeled it.

    When I hear of other religions growing in number compared to Christianity I ask why…I don’t have to look long for an answer. People want to join something with passion. They want something to believe in that will change their lives not just be added like a side dish. I think far too many Christians just “add” Christ, not surrender to Him as Lord and Savior. Sorry, this is a soap box for me. I could go on and on and on…

  8. Jan says:

    I think I can empathize with just about anyone, any situation. Sometimes I think that can be a downfall, as I often don’t know what to do with this empathy. When I can put it into action(such as helping a child with school supplies or something like that) I will do it. Sometimes I just listen, or hug, I don’t know what to say, I’m not a great advice giver, and a lot of times I wonder if I’m actually doing enough about getting the message of Christ to others….I often don’t voice it, I try to live it. I’m not bragging about having empathy, because sometimes it can overwhelm me. Love this post Bill.