Accept What Is
There’s something powerful about noticing the details of people’s stories and reflecting back to them how they echo God’s larger story of redemption. Accepting what is means recognizing with reverent wonder the majesty and authority of God. This frees me to love my neighbors without the need to save them. The Holy Spirit does the convicting, so I can stand with my neighbors in love whether I agree with them or not.
How do we execute a sense of wonder when it may be difficult to accept beliefs, opinions, behaviors, or circumstances we wish were different? Part of accepting what is means knowing we don’t understand all of who God is or how he works. It comes back to right-sizing our understanding of who we are in God’s big world and accepting our neighbors where they are.
Empathy and acceptance are extensions of standing in the awkward, because often other people’s emotions make us uncomfortable. As a doer I want to fix things. But empathy allows me to step into the other person’s experience without judgment. We grow in our empathy as we grow in our understanding of our neighbor’s situation. Here are some ways to apply empathy in conversation.
Verbalize what you’ve heard. State back the feelings explicitly named or implied. (“It sounds like you were angry.”) This helps the other person feel understood and clarifies misunderstandings.
Affirm the other person’s feelings. Let people know their response was normal, whether appropriate or healthy or not. (“I can see why you would feel that way.”) Intense emotions may be calmed if someone feels heard.
Be flexible in your responses. As emotions fluctuate, be prepared to meet the person where they go. If talking about anger leads to a place of deeper grief, or if tears turn to laughter, be okay with the change. Give people freedom to have whatever feelings they need.
Don’t mistake empathy for approval. We can get wound up in believing our affirmation of someone’s experience means we approve of every decision, thought, or belief that went into it. Let that correlation go. Empathy identifies with the feelings; it doesn’t mean endorsement of the behavior.
May we be people who embrace the neighbors right in front of us without agendas or expectations but with a reception that speaks love.
Who are you uniquely positioned to encourage this week?