“On empathy”

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.

One of the girls served by iEmpathize in Mexico City. (iEmpathize)
One of the girls served by iEmpathize in Mexico City. (iEmpathize)

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.

Mary Wade is a blogger who serves with the Boulder-based non-profit iEmpathize. This post was slightly edited from the original, which Mary posted today on her blog as “Learning to Empathize.”

Mary Wade

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Mary Wade is an abolitionist from a small town in Western Colorado. She enthusiastically joined the non-profit iEmpathize as an intern, and is now its project and event coordinator. In this role she helps manage ongoing projects and events of all shapes and sizes, as well as helps the iE team by staying on top of its crazy calendar. Mary also engages college students and faith communities in the battle of ending child sexual exploitation and human trafficking. Through art, music, artifacts and media, she helps iEmpathize create pathways for her generation to enter the story of victims, survivors and the heroes who are helping restore the lives of vulnerable and victimized kids in Cambodia, Thailand, Mexico, Russia and the United States. Mary is inspired by Jesus, the perfect picture of empathy. She is passionate about justice, mercy, Jesus, beauty, efficiency, writing, and gluten-free cinnamon rolls. When not working, you can find Mary playing Old Time fiddle, rock climbing or hanging with her best friend and husband, Lyndon. She graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in ethnomusicology.