Turning Back Pain into Empathy

Spiritual Growth • August 20, 2018

How ironic. Just a few weeks ago I blogged about turning trials into triumph. Today, I’m typing this one flat on my back to share my revelation of turning back pain into empathy.  Sounds like a trial to me!

Thankfully, compared to many people, my lifetime contains a few minor injuries, illnesses, and surgeries. Not enough for me to experience long-term chronic pain or physical suffering. Therefore, my pain tolerance is low at the level of “whiny baby” but I prefer to suffer alone so only those closest to me are lucky enough to enjoy the pouting.

On day seven, I must admit that my attitude about this discomfort was less than honorable.  Yes, I went to the dark side of pity-party believing a healing is not in sight.

Was it not my last post that spelled out the acronym T-R-I-A-L with R standing for REASON?  At mid-morning, God hit me with the inspiration that I’m living out my own lesson facing trials again and I needed to embrace the discomfort to receive His blessing. Instantly, He revealed to me that He’s turning my back pain into empathy for other people with chronic pain or physical illness. Why? Because the strength of empathy is not a natural gift of mine. In fact, it’s number 27 out of 34 on my Strengthsfinder assessment. What does that mean? I means that I don’t posses the true meaning of empathy naturally at a high degree, so I have to work at it. It doesn’t say that I don’t care or have compassion which are not the same as genuine empathy.

Empathy . em·pa·thy \ ˈem-pə-thē \ by definition means: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this.

The inability to demonstrate empathy is often misunderstood and falsely interpreted as uncaring, cold, and insensitive. People with the gift of high empathy cannot fathom why others cannot operate the same way. They are hurt, frustrated, and offended by their own desire to receive a response from someone not well equipped to deliver their expectation.

For those, like me, who cannot vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others easily must have a real experience to gain the same level of understanding. Then we can express what others have naturally, an empathetic expression. For many of us, the natural response is to offer advice and attempt to solve their problem. Typically, this is not well received. When people desire the empathetic persona and receive the problem-solver, disappointment, hurt, and even anger are felt. It’s unfortunate because the problem-solver believes that they are expressing the highest level of care and concern by offering their best solution.

So what is this trial of turning back pain into empathy going to do for me as a faithful follower of Jesus? How in the world could the new knowledge of chronic pain glorify God? By having a real experience, I’ve acquired empathy through a common situation.  I will be more aware of sick and physically challenged people.  I will love them more deeply and demonstrate more patience with the physically hurting.

Considering that I’m not a doctor nor qualified to give health-related advice, I will silence the problem-solver and resist my council to those who are suffering from physical conditions. Instead, I will heighten my natural gifts which are compassion, encouragement, and support.

How God is turning back pain into Empathy

If I run through my TRIAL formula, I offer the following outcome for why God is turning back pain into empathy:

T – my back pain is a temporary season.
R – the reason for this trial was for me to share the experience of chronic pain to acquire empathy.
I – raised compassion is a symbol of higher integrity. God knows what I need to keep building character.
A – I didn’t carry a great attitude consistently until I embraced the discomfort.  A clear reminder to live in God’s strength during the good times and bad times with joy and gratitude.
L – I learned the practical lessons that I must take better care of my body and start slower in weight training to avoid injuries like this in the future.  I learned that I needed a real understanding about physical pain to love others through theirs.

Not having a natural gift of empathy doesn’t make us right or wrong, good or bad. We are just different and visa versa. For those with natural gifts of empathy, please try to keep an open mind that not everyone has this gift and may respond differently than you.  They may appear cold or distant because they know that they cannot solve the problem so they don’t have a secondary response to leverage.

We are uniquely and perfectly designed by God to carry out His mission by giving us assignments fitted for our unique design.  We should always stay true to who we are but open to receive God’s revelation for personal growth when He makes it available.

It might not be turning back pain into empathy, but what great lesson has God taught you during a life trial?  I would love to hear about it.

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