A Calvin Theological Seminary Publication by Students & Alumni
Empathy: Grace to Change the World

Empathy: Grace to Change the World

What would you like to talk about today?

I was sitting in Karl’s office during the first of many weekly individual supervision sessions that would come to define the summer like a heartbeat—a steadying, bracing pulsation.

That particular question (What would you like to talk about today?) would also repeat itself every week during those summer months—a carefully altered record of sorts. But in that first moment, I faltered. Tears rushed to my eyes that were habitually dry around company. I felt a heavy amount of regret for choosing CPE. Vulnerability, honesty with myself, was never easy. I knew this.

I could have held back. Maybe pretended that I was simply overwhelmed and afraid of the newness of it all. It wasn’t a lie, after all. The first few days on the Pine Rest units had given me spasms of fear about being new and my lack of confidence. But it was a simplified, shrouded sort of truth.

I also knew that this was exactly why I had chosen to do CPE. I needed to be honest about the pain that was coloring my life. The pain needed to breathe a little, like how one methodically does with wine. I wanted to come to terms with it in all its subtleties and navigate it. Now was the time for me to do that.

And so it spilled out of me—the story of my mother’s death and the hellish aftermath, the depression and “voices” within that would guide me to self-loathing with veteran cunning, my qualms and deep fears about ministry—the dark underbelly of my life’s narrative slopped out clumsily and copiously.

Karl listened intently, only interrupting me to ask a few clarifying questions. I finished and sat noisily mopping my eyes and nose, wondering what kind of response would greet me. I expected him to be concerned for me, but mostly concerned about how I would function within the CPE program. Maybe he would agree with me about my doubts about ministry—yes, with the depression and fears, it would be all too much.

Instead, Karl heard my story and felt the pulse of my pain. He met me at each pitch of my deepest hurts. I can appreciate how overwhelming this must be for you. It is one of the most difficult losses, to lose a parent as a teenager. Your pain does not disqualify you from ministry. I wish your mother was here with you.

I would come to encounter many moments like this throughout the summer. At times I would be on the receiving end, at others, giving such precious care. In that first moment and the days to follow, I felt with certain force, a surging wave, the power of listening and of empathy. How normal I felt—how human!—when Karl’s words were given to me. The weight of self-doubt and frustrating gray lifted from my shoulders, my stomach, my heart. What grace.

Kerux has themed this month’s edition “Change our World” and that phrase immediately transports me to a place of youthful passion. Large-scale, ground-shaking change—I believe in that sort of change. Being a dreamer, there are still many days in which I indulge that voice that speaks directly to my heart: there is a greater vision to be fulfilled, the world to be saved. Won’t I join in?

But if my time in CPE this summer has taught me anything, it is that while change happens in larger-than-life ways, it also happens as I commit deeply to the person in front of me. Change happens when I decide to be more human, resolve to let others be human, let the facades and preconceived labels crumble, and connect with others. Change happens when we grow silent, our inner selves that crave attention also grow silent, and we join the one in front of us where he is, where she is not.

Paul urges us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And I wonder, as those words and the experiences of the summer converge and dance together in my mind: Jesus joined us in our lives in the world and that certainly changed it. What would happen if we decide to follow his lead and step into the joy and pain of others? Wouldn’t the world change?


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