Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying, “I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.” Understanding our wives is key to leading them in love. Empathy is sharing in that understanding. So let’s get religious.
People smarter than me have argued over the differences between sympathy and empathy for years. I don’t want to pretend the fine line doesn’t exist, but allow me to draw it.
Sympathy is having pity for someone in need, but not necessarily sharing in that need emotionally. Empathy, on the other hand, is having pity because of the emotional identification. In other words, empathizers can “feel” your pain.
Empathy is understanding at the emotional level. It hears and feels. It shoots past the intellectual mark to reach the motivations and affections in order to be stirred in a similar way.
Guys, I know this sounds like sissy-talk, but hear me out.
I recall a local student ministry spending a weekend under the downtown bridges, with only the clothes on their backs begging for food. They were temporarily and intentionally stranded. Why? Because they wanted to empathize with the homeless in order to be more compassionate in their evangelism.
Don’t mistake the illustration. I’m not suggesting we dress up like women and take hormone pills. You know me better than that. I’m suggesting we intentionally and creatively go the distance in our imaginations to experience the triumphs and tragedies that stir our wives’ hearts.
It’s easy to be harsh with our wives when we hear them expressing themselves in a strong emotional way. But the Bible tells us to “not be harsh with them” (Col. 3:19). Empathy is the key.
Empathy Turns Grumbling into Growth
We’ve heard wives are known for nagging—constantly finding fault with—their husbands. They may nitpick a tad much at times. But hear this: most complaints (if not all) come from a sore spot we’ve actually caused. If we’re empathetic to those complaints, we might find some good opportunities to grow.
Empathy Turns Hurting into Healing
Pardon while I cliché it, “Hurting people hurt people.” This is true of us all at times, right? We can throw our tantrums on our spouse when they don’t belong there. Our wives are no different. When they say hurtful things, don’t retaliate with harsh words (Proverbs 15:1). They likely have genuine hurts that are not expressed through their words. By empathizing, you can better lead them to healing.
Empathy Turns Coldness into Compassion
Hebrews 4:15 says Christ empathizes with us. As our faithful High Priest, Jesus goes to the Father with our appeals while understanding our pain. And, as our model of love, we must empathize with our wives so we can go to Him with our prayers. Rather than resentment, which often leads to divorce, we should have compassion, which is brought about through empathy.
Reflecting on Colossians 3:19, one man said to me, “Don’t call her honey and act like vinegar.” I’ll leave you with that.