“One doesn’t have to operate with great malice to do great harm. The absence of empathy and understanding are sufficient.” – Charles M. Blow
When I was a little girl, I would dance with my sisters, pick flowers (instead of playing soccer like I was supposed to), take care of injured bugs and animals, play doctor, etc. When I was 12, I decided I would go to college to major in missions, and then leave for a third-world country to be a missionary. I was convinced that my sole purpose was to help others. To be kind when others weren’t; honest when others would lie; to care when others didn’t.
But those were the pure and innocent aspirations of a child. Turns out, life is hard and messy. Turns out, being kind doesn’t always come natural, honesty takes a lot out of you, and caring about people isn’t as simple as it sounds.
Just like most people, my past has moments of intense hardship. I very quickly became familiar with words like persecution, betrayal, heartache, etc. No, not everything was bad…but when you’re a kid, the bad usually feels like it’s out-weighing the good. When I was in high school, I began to understand and relate to a new word: apathy.
Apathy means to have a lack of interest, enthusiasm, or concern. The opposite of it is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
As a freshman in high school, I was starting to experience things in life that cut to the bone. My way of coping constantly jumped from one thing to the next. At first, I just shoved everything away. Then, instead of emphasizing with others, I would take those emotions and lash out at people. But eventually, that dissolved into me having an apathetic nature. Life was still messy, but it seemed a lot easier when I stopped caring about things or people as much.
I went from being an innocent girl with a huge smile and a full heart, to a moody teenager who would rather sulk in her own room than enjoy a family dinner. My apathy spilled over. It affected others. It hurt relationships. I didn’t need to be actively mean, or cruel. I didn’t need to take actions that reflected my apathy. The simple fact that I lacked empathy was enough.
The older I got, the more my apathy evolved. It looks different now than it did 7 years ago, but it still exists. I’m not always apathetic, but I sure do struggle with it often. Sometimes it drains me of energy just to be empathetic and patient with people; other times I pour out so much of myself into others, that I don’t have enough left for me.
Apathy is not just something that I struggle with though, it’s something we all struggle with at times. Sometimes this world drags us down and, more often than we’d like, we respond with apathy. We respond by pretending we don’t care, or by caring about something else more. As humans, this spreads and infects our relationships with people. As Christians, it infects our relationship with Christ.
Apathy appears often in our speech and actions. A perfect example of this, and a common scenario, is when we’re having a conversation with someone and, before they’ve even finished what they’re saying, we’ve jumped to the next thing! Maybe we claim to care, but our mind was obviously focused more on what we were going to say next, than what they were saying right then.
This is only one example, and a simple one at that, but I could give you hundreds…either way, it doesn’t express empathy. It doesn’t show that we care, it doesn’t show love.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (NIV)
Ephesians 4:29 has a similar command: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (ESV)
If we are being apathetic in our speech, then we are failing to do what God has called us to do, which is to encourage one another; to come alongside each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ.
It’s time to turn away from our apathetic natures, our sin natures, and instead embrace everything that God has called us to be…He has called us to so much more. There is no instruction guide that I can give you apart from the Bible. So dig in. Absorb it. Remember, this isn’t just about you. Changing the way we talk to people can be the first step towards sharing the gospel with someone. Just as apathy can spill over and impact people, so can change. So can empathy.
What’s being poured into you, is what’s going to pour out of you. Will it be apathy or empathy? If you want it to be empathy, and I pray you do, then fill up. Spend time with God, in scripture and in prayer. Make that change. Take that step. Encourage others to do the same.