Empathy — When Something Good Is Done

When I am confused or worried, I want someone to listen without rushing or concluding or pronouncing. It irritates me when someone dismisses me with “look on the bright side,” or for those theologically persuaded, “God is doing something good.” I don’t want to be equally dismissive, so I look for the “giver’s” good intent and try to not take it deeply. What do you do?

Empathy is the ability to know and experience the consolations and desolations of another. It is a spiritual discipline, a social skill and a profound respect; it is a relationship and a friendship that matters deeply.

Empathy is not sympathy where the “giver” feels good about the giving. It is not solution focused, or panacea finding, or conversation concluding. Sympathy is a reactive protection from getting involved. It is limbic un-thoughtfulness.

I want you to watch a lovely 3 minute cartoon on what empathy is, what caring is. Brene Brown is the speaker with the words behind the drawings. To hear more of what she has to say, look at “The Power of Vulnerability.” Want to see even more? Check out her genius TED talk.

Done (or “Disposable Art” as a friend once said)

July 1, 2013 and it is the hottest Canada Day on record and I have spent the day dumping old sermons into yellow plastic recycling bags.

Now please take this blog in the spirit with which it is written – total self-pity. I think that sometimes a little public pouting is good for the soul, in spite of what psychology claims, especially when one feels that “life as I have known it is over” (I have been muttering this a lot lately as I approach my 65th).

So, as I have said, it is a sweltering day, 30 degrees upstairs in our house, and Carole decides to go for a swim in the ocean but I mope downstairs where it is 10 degrees cooler and shuffle through 40 years of my paper life. For those who don’t know, preachers used to write sermons on 8.5×11 inch paper and drew outlines on acetate sheets for projection, way before PowerPoint and laptops but way after flannel graph.

Into the yellow recycling bag went all my Biblical brilliance. Sermon series entitled “Questions God Asks of Ordinary People,” “LAF, It’s Only the Church” and “Some Things I Learned Since I Knew it All,” were interspersed with less colorful topics such as “Romans in a Week,” or “When God Comes Down,” which sounds a bit frightening if I didn’t have a decent theology about who God is. He probably won’t incarnate again just to rebuke me for pouting.

In dumping my theological history, my occasional rants and revelations, my hope for a truth that can be walked in, my compulsions to see the church be what it can be, as well as some wisdom along the way, I feel relieved, finished finally. Done.

Seeing my soiled and written-on outlines, I can also see my anxious delusions as well as worthy hopes and good intentions and I am content that both get dumped together, slumming side-by-side in my yellow recycling bag. This seems fitting and the yellow tinge makes them look more antiquated, more special, than they are.

It occurs to me that the best preaching that I could muster is to be recycled into Starbucks cups. So if you see the word “grace” or “hope” or “heaven” prisoned inside your paper latte cup, it might have been written by me.

You’re welcome.

Been Thinking About Change (Guest Blog)

Laura Sportack, a friend as well as the chaplain at GF Strong (Rehabilitation Centre in Vancouver), has been thinking about change. Here are her thoughts and you could add your own.

  • — Moving from where one is to where one wants to be.
  • — A decision made out of necessity.
  • — Deciding to do something good with painful memories.
  • — The undoing of a habitual action, response, thought, emotion.
  • — Behaviours that assume a different sequencing or timing.
  • — A choice to act on thinking rather than, or at least more than, feeling.
  • — Using different language to describe an emotion or an action.
  • — An achievable hope.
  • — Listening instead of speaking.
  • — For the better or for the worse, and sometimes it is hard to tell which it is.
  • — Not always noticed by others.
  • — Identifiable.
  • — Simultaneously intrapersonal and interpersonal.
  • — A measured response, not a spontaneous or intuitive reaction.
  • — Specific to a need.
  • — When you are afraid and decide to go ahead with it anyhow.
  • — Forgiving yourself and others before you understand how you failed.
  • — God’s way of saving me.

If Laura sounds like a therapist, she is also that. Thanks Laura for your list. (And you might wish to click on the “change” tag below to read some other thoughts on changing.)

“How’s Your Day?” and Other Great Questions

“How are you doing?” “What’s going on?” “Can I help you?” “Where are you going?” “How’re you feeling?” Questions are important. They make you think.

Two of my favourite parent-to-child questions are:
“What are you doing?” (this helps the child think about her behaviour); and
“What should you be doing?” (this helps the child think about what ought to be).

The first question requires the child to think and reflect. If asked with affection and gentle touch, the child will probably not defend or deny but ponder and remember. The second question invokes the conscience and requires a value or judgment call. This helps a child decide on what is right and true. Two key questions for growing up well or living well when you are older – one for the mind and one for the conscience.

Here are some questions that I ask my client-friends. If you have been visiting with me, you may be familiar with them.
 What are you doing that is working well?
 What are you doing that is taking you nowhere? (Or, “What are you doing to create your own hell?”)
 What assets do you and your colleagues bring to your shared task? (This is a good question for marriage and family as well. Just change the words a bit.)
 How are you most resourceful when life (or work) is threatening or stressful?
 How do you adapt to pain?
 What are you holding on to that you need to relinquish? (Good question for parents of teenagers or those grieving a loss.)
 What positive changes are you causing (e.g. to your work, your family) by being yourself?
 What are the best things about your relationships within your family or work?
 Describe a circumstance in your marriage, family or work in which you felt loved.

For lots more questions pertaining to marriage and pre-marriage look for Couple Intimacy Questionnaire under “Tools For Change.” And if you hope to grow from where you are to where you want to be, see the paper entitled “Contract for Change.” Great questions.

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