The Power of Empathy
I arrived at church for the Bible study frazzled. As we got out of the car I took my two-year-old twin boys’ hands, heading for the entrance. But one of them jerked away, my grip loosening. He raced pell-mell toward the landscaped flowerbed and plunged in, looking back to laugh at me.
“Come to Mommy!” I beckoned. He ignored me, climbing higher up the landscaped hill and laughing. I called to him several more times, but he continued to ignore me.
I handed off my other son to a friend who took him into childcare. Meanwhile, I climbed after the runaway and made a grab for him.
Once the boys were safely in their playgroup I headed toward the Bible study, frustrated and discouraged. I’d been dealing with my toddler’s love for running away for long enough, or so I felt. No matter what tactic of discipline I’d tried, nothing seemed to make a difference.
I ran into Connie before reaching the classroom door. Pretty and petite, Connie always looked put-together.And although she seemed demure at first, I knew her also to be one of those bold women of God I’d like to be when I “grew up.” She’d been in my small group in Bible study for several sessions and I knew her pretty well.
I tried to keep back the tears as she greeted me. I expressed my anger and frustration with my son’s behavior and how I felt like a “bad” mom for even feeling those emotions that welled up inside of me.
“Oh believe me, I remember those days,” Connie said smiling. “My oldest daughter was always in trouble and soooo hard to manage. She used to wake up the baby on purpose and if I’d ask her to do something she’d smile at me, stomp her foot, and say “no.”
I blinked. Really?
I saw Connie and her family in church every Sunday. Her four almost-grown children seemed so perfect. The daughter she referenced was now tall, blonde, and beautiful. I tried to imagine her acting out as a toddler the way Connie described. I couldn’t really imagine it.
Connie went on to share several other scenarios from her children’s younger years, hilariously funny when looking back on them. From throwing Duplo blocks at each other and getting stitches to Connie falling asleep at the dinner table, she gave me a peek into her early mothering years.
“The days are long but the years are short,” Connie said, giving me a hug.
Connie didn’t share a Bible verse or pray for me that morning, but she gave me just what I needed in that moment: empathy.
By letting me see her life as it really was, Connie encouraged me. She was living out Titus 2:3-4 where it says, “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children . . . ” She opened up her life and shared out of her own struggles, emotions, and shortcomings from her early mothering years.
And suddenly, I had hope that we’d make it. I had a vision for life beyond the toddler years.
We went into the Bible study together.