Empathy and The One Who is Always There

By Kersley Fitzgerald

I sat at a table in my Sunday best. Beside me, Dev was wearing a coat and a tie. Around us, the room was filled with women in Little Black Dresses and well-heeled men with checkbooks nestled in their pockets. Up front, Alison spoke about her life. A loving but flawed father who didn't protect her from the abuse that started when she was four. A mentally ill mother who couldn't take care of her. Her father's death. Rounds of abuse in foster homes. Living on the streets because it was safer. Getting caught in sex trafficking. Getting addicted to drugs. Meeting the good people at Restore Innocence who just flat out accepted her. Even when she disappeared. Even when she showed up stoned. Getting a Christmas present for the first time since she was twelve — lotion and a scarf. And that amazing moment when she got it — that Jesus loved her and wanted so much more for her.

Then walking to school and passing a man who'd paid to have sex with her when she was 14.

She finished by singing Tenth Avenue North's You Are More. And the ladies in their LBDs elbowed their husbands, and the husbands pulled out their checkbooks.

iEmpathize, an organization dedicated to using media to fight trafficking, says, "Sympathy is feeling badly for the suffering of others. It is passive, allowing separation to exist between the bystander and the victimized. Empathy closes this gap by diving into the suffering of others. It's active, compelling the empathizer toward action." While empathy inspired Dev to pull out the metaphorical checkbook, I have something different to offer Alison.

I wasn't abused. I was never on the streets. The most illegal drugs I've done was when some idiot kid fired up a joint at JT's T-ball game. The secondhand smoke gave me a halo migraine for an hour.

But, like Alison, once upon a time I had a loving but flawed father who drowned in his alcoholism and killed himself. Unlike her, I was 29, not 12. No foster homes. But still the same question — "How am I so inadequate as a person that you'd rather die than be my dad?"

I suspect that Alison, like I do, knows the textbook answer — especially since she's fought addiction herself. Despair and depression are tightly linked to alcoholism. Bad chemicals do bad things to your brain. Self-absorption is a deep, deep pit, and it's rare that any light can get through, even the glow of your kids' faces.

Did she know that at twelve? When her mother couldn't care for her, and the state sent her to a series of foster homes where she was just abused more? I didn't sense any bitterness toward her dad, just confusion. But then kids of alcoholics grow up pretty fast.

Still, beyond the textbook answer, I hope she comes to learn the real answer. The Sunday school answer. And it's simply: God. God is Father to the fatherless. In fact, He's mother to the motherless. He fills every need we have; we just have to know how to look. Our bio family can't compare. The people we unthinkingly gravitate toward, thinking they'll fill some need — they can't compare. Even the amazing believers around us who lay down their lives and pick up the phone when we call at two in the morning can't compare.

Because everyone around us who should have been there or who we want to be there or who is there in a limited way is really just an instrument of the One Who is always there. God provides. Sometimes He uses a still, small voice, and sometimes He uses a person who comes around at the right time. But even the most loving, sacrificial person is not the one meeting our needs. It was God all along. Some people are closer to Him and He can use them more. Some don't even realize they're being used. And some refuse to be used. But it doesn't matter, because God is always on the job.

It's a hard idea to accept because it's intimately tied into to what it is we believe we need. At first, we think it's family Christmas dinner or being walked down the aisle. Really, it's closer to what John Eldredge says — being delighted in. Being worthy of someone's attention. Or, in our case, being enough that someone would rather be in our lives than kill themselves.

It took me a long time to really get that. Without even realizing it, I looked to other people to fill the need. Now I know to look to God, while being grateful to those who allow God to use them.

And, with God, I know we are worth dying for so that He can live with us forever.

Image Credit: Donnie Ray Jones; "Twin Comfort"; Creative Commons

TagsChristian-Life  | Hardships  | Personal-Relationships

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Published 5-30-12