Our ability to empathize is not determined by the extent of our personal suffering but by the extent that we are able to enter in to another’s suffering, whether we have suffered the same, similarly or differently. Distance between those acquainted with more suffering than others is often circumstantial, yet it can also be a choice.
My husband, Lyndon, and I are legally homeless. We have many places to stay but we have no home. I am extremely thankful for the dear friends and family members who have offered to put us up or let us stay with them in the three months since we moved out of our apartment. We have a roof over our heads but it is not the same as having a home, a refuge and place of rest. I have been challenged to examine my heart and ask myself, “Do I really make God my refuge?” The past three months have been really challenging. I have never felt so displaced, wandering around wondering if we will find a place to live yet. I’ve been in survival mode; not really living as much as just surviving…trying to figure it out one day at a time. Where will I eat or change into my running clothes? Since my organization, iEmpathize, doesn’t use an office, where will I work?
Though it is hard to feel such uncertainty and displacement, this experience has taught me to empathize with the children I serve in a new way. For that I am grateful. UNICEF estimates that 240,000 children live on the streets of Mexico City. These abandoned children spend every moment of every day figuring out how make it. They have no family, no support, and no education. Many of them end up being exploited or trafficked because of their vulnerability. When you have no money, no food, no job, no home and no help, what do you have? Your body. Spending every day in survival mode is hard! It’s tiring and stressful and heavy on the heart. My personal experience with homelessness pales in comparison to the experiences of the abandoned kids in Mexico City and the experiences of other displaced peoples around the world and in the United States. I empathize with the displaced, the homeless, the refugees, and the runaways so much more deeply having experienced a little displacement myself.
The way we respond to the pain of others in the world can be the difference between suffering increasing and a movement of justice and restoration. I challenge you to consider your response, to find a way to relate, to enter in. May we all learn to empathize.