God blessed humans with the gift of empathy, to identify with others’ situations, feelings, or motives. Because of this we have the capacity to pull from an encyclopedia-sized life of experiences and circumstances to find the one moment, the one time that mirrors what another person is going through. This is a precious gift that births compassion, kindness, generosity, and on and on. All too often we lose sight of compassion, kindness, generosity when met with people who are nothing like us. They have had totally different childhoods and lifestyles. They are from a different country, generation, or religion.
Perhaps Jesus was so empathetic because, as God, He had experienced our lives already. Of course an all-knowing God can empathize with His children, show them limitless compassion, kindness, and generosity. When we are asked to do this it’s sometimes a different story. If we can’t draw on our life experiences to relate to those different from us, then where do we start.
First, I’ll admit that I did a personal study on myself regarding my bias toward certain pedestrians. Anyone who has driven in Berkeley knows that pedestrians definitely have the right of way. In some areas there they will walk right out in front of you no matter if you are going 10 mph or 60 mph. My morning drive to work is where I do a lot of my “outside work” thinking. I wondered if I subconsciously decide to stop for some people and race by others. I observed myself, and found that I am much more likely to stop for someone that is more like me; someone who looks like they are on their way to a similar job, maybe they are a similar age, usually the same gender. I started thinking that maybe I’m a bigot of sorts. I felt so ashamed until I reminded myself that my behavior was done subconsciously.
So, again, I ask, where do we start if we can’t relate to someone through our personal experiences? Well, one place to start is on our knees. “Dear Lord, I do not know how to relate to Jane. She is so different from me. Some of the things she does just get on my nerves. How can I possibly love her the way you ask me to? Please help me. Amen.” God will change your heart. Secondly, you can relate through your differences. Recently I was speaking to a new acquaintance about his religious and cultural customs. In many ways they are the polar opposite of my experience and practice, so I related to him by talking about the differences. As we talked we found similarities in our thinking that we didn’t know existed.
God told us to hate sin. Sin is the act, not the person. If you can’t relate to a person because they are living a sinful lifestyle do not run in fear. God calls us to be light in the darkness, and in everything God calls us to do, he calls us to love. So instead of running from those that are different, we need to run toward them with our lights lit, which is not to say we should tell them all they are doing wrong, but all the ways God sees them as right.