Recently, I spent a week with a senior leader from my team, traveling through Europe. We spent a lot of time in meetings, but also on planes, trains and in taxis, where we talked about more than just work…..and how each of us started working with people living with HIV. He shared a lot about himself and how God has used him [and his family] in inner-city Baltimore.
I shared my story about how I started working in HIV and how it all happened because of a heartbreak and broken engagement. [Short version…I was supposed to get married and didn’t….. then moved to Mexico to work with people living with HIV. There’s wayyyy more to that story, but I’ll have to share later.]
His insight was that he thinks my commitment to working with the poor, lonely and marginalized is because I experienced great heartbreak at a young age and that God used that situation to propel me to working for Him to bring His kingdom to Earth.
I had never thought about it like that before. I HAD seen a pattern in my life where I would experience heartbreak and God would open this HUGE glittery door for me to walk through. And I’ve seen quite a few of those HUGE glittery doors….which means, I’ve had quite a few heartbreaks. [I’ve been through the wringer when it comes to relationships and EVERY.SINGLE.TIME the Lord has used what was broken and breaking inside me to do more of His work.]
Back to the point…..I had never thought about God using that original heartbreak to mold me into having a heart for those who are marginalized. The more I’ve thought about it though, the more I think my boss is right. I’ve seen God use my heartbreak to propel me into His will, but He’s also used it to mold my heart and create in me an empathy that does not naturally exist.
Last year, when I was participating in Leadership Charlotte, I took the StrengthsFinders assessment and empathy (as a strength) for me was DEAD last. This is supposed to mean that it’s your ‘least strength’. But what it really means is that ‘ya got none’.
Empathy does not come naturally in me, but God has been grooming it in me since that very first heartbreak. He has used my broken heart to grow me, put me in uncomfortable situations where I could grow even more, and ultimately be all about His work. Because of my heartbreak, I am able to see what breaks the heart of our Father. [and y’all….it’s a LOT….]
When I lived in DC I would pray on my walk from the metro to my office. And every day I would ask God to break my heart for what breaks His. [Can I just say that this is an extremely scary and vulnerable prayer?! What if He answers it?!] Well….He answered my prayer every.single.day. I walked by the same homeless people day after day after day. My heart was broken for them….so I started volunteering at the local Rescue Mission [when I was in the US because most of that season of my life was spent in Africa….again….wayyyyy more to that story that I’ll have to share later]. That original heartbreak and empathy that God had grown (and is still growing) in me allowed me to pray strong fervent prayers for the people on the streets of DC. It now enables me to love people on the streets of Charlotte in a way that I would have never thought possible.
This past year has been the closest, most intimate period of my life with my Father. I’ve started calling him Abba. And just living day-by-day in His will. But it didn’t happen overnight. My heart got broken AGAIN [this time sucked….really bad]. But my Abba protected me and used that heartbreak for His purposes. He has used my broken heart in a way where I’ve had to lean on Him, growing in enormous intimacy with Him. At first I was REALLY angry with Him. Now, I’m really grateful. [but…ummmmmm….that took some time…..ok, let me be brutally honest here…..I’m still working on that gratefulness…..]
And in all of this, my Father is teaching me pity (which is different from empathy….see my comments at the end of this post). It’s been a hard lesson to learn because neither empathy nor pity come innately to me. He’s used my own heartbreak to show me the hearts of others. And He’s given me a great counselor from Carolina Counseling to help me process it all and learn both empathy and pity.
Empathy and pity combine to help me understand the context of hurt in others. In the end, it was “good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn [His] decrees.” (Psalm 119:71)
Hurt people hurt people. We are all hurt, but some of us are hurt more. So those of us who are hurt less need to muster some pity for those who were hurt more. But let’s also break the cycle. Let’s stop hurting other people.
There might be more heartbreak for me in the future. But that’s ok, because I know He will use it for His purposes. We are all Unfinished masterpieces. [Thank you Mandisa for really singing that home.] My God is not done making me a masterpiece.
We are on all on a journey of being made into a masterpiece. Just like this trolley car that I saw in the middle of Lisbon. Over it’s long life, it’s become a masterpiece. Just like each one of us.
Different translations of the bible use either: ‘pity’, ‘compassion’ or ‘feeling sorry’ to refer to how Jesus felt about the plight of His children with whom He encountered. I’ve intentionally used pity, instead of these other terms because I think we often think about the word ‘pity’ having a negative connotation and this should not be the case. Jesus had pity for people and He calls us to do the same. These words are also synonyms to ‘sympathy’, which is distinct from empathy. I was intentional about referring to both pity AND empathy because BOTH are necessary in understanding and responding to people with whom we interact.
Sympathy (pity) is an expression of concern, compassion or sorrow about distressful events in a person’s life. Empathy is an expression of understanding for what a person is experiencing or feeling (often times thought of putting ourselves in the shoes of another).