“All of you should be of one mind. Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude.” 1 Peter 3:8, NIV
In order to live in harmony with your spouse, your friends, or anybody else, you must have empathy. Not only do you need to be aware of what’s happening in their lives, you need to develop a genuine concern for them. Empathy is important because it meets two of our deepest needs: the need to be understood and the need to have our feelings validated.
How do you become an empathetic person?
Start by slowing down so you can notice what’s happening around you. Our culture teaches us to move fast, so we end up skimming relationally. You are skimming when you are hitting most of the high points and missing all kinds of details in the lives of people you care about most. When was the last time you allowed someone to share their heart with you? You can’t sympathize if you aren’t listening.
Once you’ve slowed down long enough to really listen, start asking thoughtful and specific questions. Most people hold their emotions pretty close, and they don’t automatically share how they’re doing. Use gentleness to draw them out. “I’m fine” is the standard answer, but that doesn’t really tell you how they feel. Asking “How was today?” is better than staying busy.
Asking “How was today?” is better than staying busy. Asking “How was your conversation with Sue?” is even better.
The only way you are going to have the energy to be authentically empathetic is by staying close to God. If your emotional tanks get low, you’ll be ruled by your own agenda. Selfishness pushes empathy into the background.
Ask God to help you slow down, ask good questions, and give you the strength to better love the people in your life.