To have empathy in the church, we must practise it in our covenant homes.
1 John 4:20, which we quoted earlier on, applies to our covenant home. We are called to love our spiritual brothers and sisters in the home — father, mother, and siblings. Not expressing that love in empathy taints our love for God. Again, let us take heed to this stern warning from God’s Word and strive to deal with each other with empathy.
Children of covenant homes are called to have empathy. Our catechism brings out this calling, instructing children to “patiently bear with [their parents’] weaknesses and infirmities” (Q&A 104). “To bear” starts with acknowledging our parents’ struggle with sin. Remember that weeping with those that weep means we take the person’s sorrow over anything — including the sorrow from struggling with sin — and put it on ourselves, so that keenly feel the burden of that sorrow.
Youth, God calls you to feel the struggles of father and mother over their sins. That consciousness will lead you to pray that the Lord would preserve and sanctify your parents through those struggles. Doing so may seem bizarre; but love for your parents will lead you to pray for your parents, even as our High Priest intercedes for us out of His love for us.
As youth, we show empathy also by showing an understanding for our parents’ earthly struggles. Think of father as the employee — working in the day; coming home to help mother with the chores; preparing for a Bible study or a committee meeting. Think of mother as the manager of the home — laundry, dishes, ironing, and groceries are no small tasks. Think of the fatigue that sets in by the end of the week and the pressures they face at home or at work.
Our actions can be used to show our parents that we are aware of their struggles. Being aware of their struggles, you do your part at home — helping in the chores, controlling your time playing phone games on your own, and learning your catechism are some ways. When we want our parents’ attention for things — phones, clothes, etc. — we do not demand these things from our parents. Rather than a disrespectful demand, we bring our request in a respectful way: “Ma, may I have a new phone? I know you and Pa are busy, so I’m not asking for it right now. But when you have time, could you and Pa think about it, please?”
Children are also called to have empathy towards their siblings. One of the best opportunities is when we help our younger siblings. Di-Di (younger brother) needs help with homework. Ma is busy. You look at the question. Would this roll off our tongues: “So easy, this one you don’t know?” Perhaps some teachers in school said such a thing to us: But is that empathy? Not quite. Something like this is more empathising: “Let do this together. Don’t be discouraged; you just need a little more practice.”
Empathy is a high calling for children, and it is a calling to be nurtured by parents.
So we turn to husbands and fathers. Husbands are to empathise with their wives. 1 Peter 3:7 calls husbands to “dwell with [their wives] according to knowledge…as unto the weaker vessel”. The knowledge a husband has of his wife is the knowledge that she is a weaker vessel. The husband must acknowledge her spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical needs. He must make it a point to talk to his wife, so that she pours her needs to him. When his wife does so, the husband must respond with empathy. There should be no “Can you stop sighing? I am so tired from work; could you say something more encouraging instead?” That is not empathy. As husbands, we must put away the day’s fatigue to bring to our wives the Word that strengthens her. That is called “looking not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).
Husbands, as fathers, are to empathise with their children too. This is implied in Ephesians 6:2, when Paul calls fathers not to provoke [their] children to wrath. (The verse also applies to mothers, who are under the headship of the husband.) One way fathers provoke wrath is criticism. Think of the child does something wrong but not sinful — perhaps spilling a cup of water. The father does not understand the child if he merely lashes out, “Can’t you be more careful with what you are doing?” In such impulsive anger, the father does not pause to empathise with the child—that the child most likely did not mean to make that mess! The empathising father does not ask, “Can’t you be…,” but considers, first, the reason behind his child’s mistake and addresses it appropriately. Much of this is discussed in Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart, a great read for couples of all ages.
Empathy is a high calling for husbands and fathers…and for wives and mothers.
They are to empathise with their husbands. Going back to 1 Peter 3:7, we find two phrases that imply this calling. The first phrase is “heirs together of the grace of life”. Husbands and wives live as such heirs only if they consciously rejoice together in the joy of their salvation. As the husband leads the wife in devotions daily, and the wife brings herself under his leadership and studies the Word with him; together, in this way, they live as heirs.
The second phrase is “that your prayers be not hindered”. Husbands and wives pray together. As they live together, they face joys — the conception of a covenant child; discussions about the Word of God and the causes of the kingdom; the provisions of God for their earthly lives. At the same time, there are many sorrows — having no children; sins committed against each other; financial struggles. What would the married couple do with these joys and sorrows? They bring it to the Lord — the joys, by thanking God; and the sorrows, by supplicating for patience, contentment, and help. Husbands ought to take the lead in these prayers; very clearly, Peter directs the phrase to husbands. But wives play a part in such prayers; when wives rejoice with husbands and weigh themselves with the sorrows of the home, husbands will find it much easier to bring these matters to the Lord in prayer. If wives are indifferent to such joys and sorrows, husbands will find little reason to pray about such things; and soon, husbands cease to find reason even to pray with his wife.
Every member of the home is called to rejoice and weep with each other.
The covenant home is the classroom where God teaches us to have empathy for others.
God teaches us, so that we may teach others. There are saints who come from spiritually broken homes, homes that never showed empathy. When we rejoice and weep with such saints, they will see the love of Christ as our High Priest who is touched by the feeling of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15). What comfort that love would bring to their hearts!
To all that are given covenant parents; to all that are covenant parents; to all that brought into God’s covenant and church — rejoice and weep with one another.
Written By: Lim Yang Zhi | Issue 51