It is far more helpful to people when our efforts to help come from empathy rather than pity. When my sister died suddenly, several years ago, I felt like the bottom fell out of my world. I was in such intense pain sometimes I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. How was it possible I would never see her again? Talk to her? Laugh with her? I had never experienced such a profound loss - and I had never suffered so deeply. A few days after I learned of my sister’s death, a woman at church stopped me in the fellowship hall and asked for the details, and how I was doing. I told her what had happened and was searching for words to convey how I was doing when she said, “Oh well, she lived in California and you live in Michigan so you can’t possibly miss her that much.”
I was stunned into silence at her seemingly callous dismissal of my pain. I literally could not open my mouth to say a single word. She went on her way, ignorant of the fact it felt like she had driven a stake into my heart. She clearly had never experienced a significant loss in her life - or if she had she had not allowed it to develop an empathetic spirit. She pitied me for losing a sister, but could not empathize with my pain.
Pity is not helpful. For years I have worked with individuals who have a variety of disabilities. One of the hardest lessons I had to learn early in this job path was my pity would do them no good. When I start to feel sorry for someone - I try to do too much to make up for his or her misfortune. I end up in a position of superiority over them, and there is a subconscious drive to keep doing more and more for them. Pity works more for my benefit because it makes me feel better without really helping those I want to help. It fosters a sense of dependence on me and robs them of their independence and ability to help themselves.
I try to be very open about the suffering I have experienced. I don’t think social media is the place to air it - because for the most part, I am a positive person and really believe God will work all things for good in the end. I do believe, however, I have suffered and struggled for good reason. I know how it feels to suffer the death of someone I dearly loved. I comprehend the hell living through a year of divorce brings. I understand the hollow, empty feeling of homelessness and the loss of a feeling of belonging anywhere. I have experienced the snub of people who purport they are there to help, but in reality have become judge and jury. I have been on both sides of the fence when it comes to church rejection, and I comprehend how easy it would be to just walk away and give up on God based on the hurt of that rejection. I know what it is to live in life-strangling debt, and to be unable to see a way out, ever. I have lived through knowing I am down to my last $20.00 and having to decide the most important way to spend it - gas or food? I have been forced to hold my head up in spite of vicious rumors and painful lies spread about me. I get how it hurts to lose friends over things like that, and the mortification of confrontation that often precedes the loss. And I have learned to be the strength my child needed when all I wanted to do was disappear somewhere and cry for the rest of my life. I have looked into the eyes of someone who pities me, who puts him or herself above me whether meaning to or not. I have swallowed my pride and accepted help from them, overcoming feelings of humiliation and embarrassment. I know how it feels.
I have learned how much better it is to treat others with dignity and respect, no matter how different they are - or the paths their lives have taken. I have learned not to pity, but to do everything in my power to empathize and set aside judgment - even when they are where they are through their own fault. I have learned to have empathy with people as they face very dark times, and I am learning to love without putting conditions on that love. My heart is softer and more vulnerable than it has ever been. I finally believe I have become a person who can truly be a source of help to others, and The Torch is a reflection of that. It is why I am here. It is why life has been the way it has been. I am at peace with my life and excited to see what happens next.