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Empathy – The Fellowship Of Suffering (via Rut Etheridge at Gentle Reformation)

Some reflections of nurturing a capacity to go beyond recognising a hurt to having a sense of the impact of the hurt – while not allowing the situation to be about your experience.
Rut Etheridge at Gentle Reformation:

Every emotion you’ve felt, the Lord has felt. I don’t know how that works, exactly. I do know that he’s felt your emotions and mine without the taint of sin. But that only means that unlike us, Jesus has felt what it is to be fully, uncompromisingly, relentlessly human, an image-bearer who never fell. He knows empathetically what it’s like to hurt as a human, but moving beyond what you or I can experience, he experienced the pains of a fallen world in the holiest and most holistic manner possible. What he never experienced was the corrupt and corrupting responses you and I daily conceive and enact as we face trial and temptation. He endured to the end, unstained by rebellion against his Father’s law. He was tempted in every way we are, but remained without sin (Hebrews 4).
As adopted, beloved sons and daughters of God, siblings of Jesus Christ, we are called to live as he did in this fallen world, learning sympathy as we suffer and ever straining toward empathy. We will never be our Savior, nor is any Christ-like suffering we endure ever identical to what Jesus endured and accomplished as the unique son of God, the spotless substitutionary sin-bearer. Jesus calls us to take up our own cross, not to carry his. But as Paul puts it so personally and poetically, it is the cry of the maturing Christian heart to come as close as possible in life to what the Savior endured and experienced in this world, through whatever times and circumstances the Lord would allot us (Philippians 3).
We are to seek empathy with Christ not in the sense of trying to mimic particular actions of his or trying to recreate historical circumstances and cultural conditions long past. We want to approach empathy with the Savior by having a heart made increasingly like his, filled with affections taught by God’s word and flowing forth in words and actions which draw attention to the glory and goodness of our heavenly Father (Philippians 2).
Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that he wants to know Christ, both in the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his suffering. Indeed, we often experience the power of Christ’s resurrection most truly and tangibly in the midst of our suffering the trials he calls us to endure for his sake. This is the case with my friends, and with countless other Christian sufferers throughout history.
None of this is to even come close to suggesting that only Christians suffer, or that Christians by definition suffer more severely than others, much less that only Christians suffer nobly and admirably. I wish that could go without saying, but sometimes Christian discourses on suffering can seem self-important and forgetful or dismissive of the pain shared by those who don’t share our faith and who endure that pain in an exemplary way. At the risk of falling into that same trap of self-importance, however, there is something unique not only about the purpose and principles of Christian suffering, but about the Christian’s capacity with regard to suffering.

Read the whole post here.


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Therapeutic Lying (via Larissa MacFarquhar at The New Yorker)

An in-depth article in The New Yorker dealing with dementia care and the way its practictioners struggle with the lying and untruths that are part of the life of carers and patients.
Over the decades and even within among practitioners differing points of view and practices have been dominant and then given way to others.
Consider what it is to work day by day in a world where truth is often judged as being what the patient needs to hear.

In dementia care, everybody lies. Although some nursing homes have strict rules about being truthful, a recent survey found that close to a hundred per cent of care staff admitted to lying to patients, as did seventy per cent of doctors. In most places, as in Chagrin Valley, there is no firm policy one way or another, but the rule of thumb among the staff is that compassionate deception is often the wisest course. “I believe that deep down, they know that it is better to lie,” Barry B. Zeltzer, an elder-care administrator, wrote in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Dementias. “Once the caregiver masters the art of being a good liar and understands that the act of being dishonest is an ethical way of being, he or she can control the patient’s behaviors in a way that promotes security and peace of mind.” Family members and care staff lie all the time, and can’t imagine getting through the day without doing so, but, at the same time, lying makes many of them uncomfortable. To ease this “deception guilt,” lying in dementia care has been given euphemistic names, such as “therapeutic fibbing,” or “brief reassurances,” or “stepping into their reality.”

Read The Comforting Fictions Of Dementia Care at The New Yorker.


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Seven Reasons Why Church Is Difficult For Those Touched By Mental Illness (via Stephen Grcevich)

Church is meant to be the one place on earth where people can come just as themselves and feel welcome and at home.
But it’s not always the case.
I found these seven reasons provided by Stephen Grcevich to make sense.
It’s helpful to read what is obvious when made plain, but is so easy to forget in practice.
Some of these are focused on parents whose children have a mental illness, others are relevant to people who are enduring various conditions whatever their age.

A couple of examples:

Anxiety: One in 15 American adults experience social anxiety disorder—a condition resulting in significant fear and distress in situations where their words or actions may be exposed to the scrutiny of others. How many social interactions might a first-time visitor to a weekend worship service need to navigate at your church? Persons with agoraphobia frequently experience intense fear, heart palpitations, breathing difficulties, excessive perspiration, and nausea in public places where their ability to leave unobtrusively is limited. How might they feel if there are no seats available near an exit at a worship service, or if a well-meaning usher directs them to a middle seat near the front of the church?

Expectations for self-discipline: The Bible clearly equates self-control with spiritual maturity. Most mental health conditions can negatively impact executive functioning—the cognitive capacities through which we establish priorities, plan for the future, manage time, delay gratification, and exercise conscious control over our thoughts, words, and actions. When children struggle with self-control in the absence of obvious signs of disability, we’re often quick to make assumptions about their parents. One mother in describing her family’s experience in looking for a church with two school-age boys with ADHD observed that, “People in the church think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

Read the whole article here.


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A More Thoughtful Way To Help Those Who Need Help

Dave Furman points out that there can be a better way to help than telling someone you’re available to provide any help they need.


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Thoughts & Prayers – What If There Was An App For That?

Comedy video clip featuring “The Thoughts & Prayers App: When you want people to know that you care.”
This does not exist.
Repeat: This does not actually exist.
Yet.


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Things To Know About Grieving People (via Nancy Guthrie)

Nancy Guthrie has a post about ten things to know about grieving people.
They’re quite helpful, for those supporting the grieving and for those navigating their own grief.
There’s a good range of observations.
Here’s one.

It is extremely hard for a grieving person to have to give a report on how they’re doing. But they do want you to invite them to talk about their grief and their loved one who died.
We tend to approach people who have been through a loss with the question, “How are you?” It is simple enough and it certainly demonstrates caring. But many grieving people feel at a loss to come up with an adequate answer to the question. “Not so good,” might sound pathetic. “Good,” just isn’t the truth. They sometimes feel as if the person asking will judge how they’re doing this grief thing if they’re honest about the ups and downs and waves of grief that sometimes overtake them. Much better is to ask an open-ended question such as, “What’s your grief like these days?” It acknowledges that it makes sense they would be sad and allows them to talk about it.

Read the whole post here.


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How Not To Help The Hurting (via Dave Furman)

Crossway Blog has a post containing Ten Ways Not To Help A Hurting Friend drawn from a book by Dave Furman.
Reading these sort of suggestions regularly is very helpful because of our compassion based tendency to want to do something when people we know are suffering, though those impulse actions can be insensitive and hurtful despite being well-intentioned.
Here’s an example:

Don’t Play the Comparison Game
“Oh, wow, you have arm pain. I had tennis elbow one time, and it was really rough. I couldn’t play any sports for a couple of weeks. I know exactly what you’re going through.”
Unless you’re Jesus, it almost never helps to tell someone that you know exactly what he or she is going through. We think we’re encouraging others by proclaiming we’ve gone through something similar, when in reality what they’re going through may be much different from our past experience. It is certainly not exactly the same. Another way you might play the comparison game is to point out other people who have it worse than your friend. We might think we’re helping when we tell someone who has a hurt leg, “Well, at least you still have a leg. There are thousands of people around the world who don’t have any legs, and they can’t walk at all. Praise God for the leg you have!” But how is that supposed to make the person feel? Not better, that’s for sure. When you do this, you minimize another person’s suffering. You are making your suffering friend feel like his pain is “no big deal.” To people in pain—whatever their issue is—it is a big deal. A person’s suffering is no small suffering to that person in that moment. If you minimize a person’s pain, it will compound his hurt even more. And when a person’s experience of his real pain is invalidated, then he is not pointed to Christ for hope and help. Why bother Jesus with something that’s really no big deal? A better way forward is to say, “I love you,” and “I am so sorry,” and to pour out your heart in compassion for the one hurting because what he’s going through is difficult and unique to him. Rather than working hard to remember your distant relative who went through something similar and sharing those stories, show sympathy and love for the hurting person who is right in front of you. Instead of comparing your friend to someone you know, you might say, “I don’t pretend to understand what you’re going through, but I want to try. Help me understand how you are feeling.”

Read the whole post here.