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Loving Well in a Broken World: Discover the Hidden Power of Empathy

Loving Well in a Broken World: Discover the Hidden Power of Empathy

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Loving Well in a Broken World: Discover the Hidden Power of Empathy

224 pagine
3 ore
Feb 18, 2020


How can we love our neighbors amid so much division and hurt?

Loving your neighbor as yourself would be easy if your neighbors were all people you understood, people you agreed with, people like you. But what about playground bullies, colleagues, refugees, online adversaries? They're all our neighbors, and Jesus said to love them. Every one. But how?

Lauren Casper believes the key is the lost art of empathy, stepping into other people’s shoes and asking what if?what if it were my child? What if it were me? Casper helps us discover how to

  • identify our blind spots and tune our hearts to the stories around us;
  • seek and extend forgiveness with grace and humility; and
  • engage in diverse and meaningful relationships.

Following these steps will enable us to connect in simple but life-altering ways, to respond to conflict with grace, bring about needed change, and shine God’s unconditional love into a dark world.

Feb 18, 2020

Informazioni sull'autore

Lauren Casper is a writer, speaker, and amateur baker. She is the founder of the popular blog and has had numerous articles syndicated by the Huffington Post, the TODAY Show, Yahoo! News, and several other publications. Lauren and her husband, John, have two beautiful children and one fluffy dog. They make their home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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Loving Well in a Broken World - Lauren Casper


For John

A Way Back to Love

If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark

"Sometimes people are just so mean!" The words tumble out of my seven-year-old’s mouth, punctuated by a sob that catches in his throat.

I stare back into large brown eyes framed by thick, wet lashes and feel my heart lurch. I wish I could snap my fingers and fix the world for him.

Yes, that’s true, I agree. Sometimes people are really mean.

His tears come with more force. Perhaps he hoped I would tell him he is wrong—that people aren’t mean, and maybe he misunderstood the kids on the playground—but I don’t. Instead, I think about all the times I’ve been shut down or shut out, all the times I’ve been teased or harassed . . . or worse. I can’t tell him people aren’t mean and the world is lovely, because sometimes people are awful and the world isn’t a pleasant place to be.

I rub his back and begin to tell him a few stories from my own childhood, a time that wasn’t terrible overall but had its hard moments—braces, glasses, anxiety, epilepsy, a truly awful haircut, and insecurity. I tell him about being afraid when I saw scary stories on the news about bad people who’d committed crimes in our city. His tears slow, and he stares back at me. I reiterate, Sometimes the world is mean, and it feels awful.

His face crumples again and he cries against my chest, What are we going to do?

The question is thousands of years old, but the answer, given by a wise teacher, still holds true . . .

Love your neighbor as yourself.

I say it softly.

"But how?!" he wails, and I feel every bit of his confusion and fear deep in my bones.

His question is one I regularly ask myself. How do we love our neighbors in a cruel world? How do we respond when anger breathes fire in our face? How, oh how, do we turn our second cheek when the first is still burning from being slapped?

The temptation is always to circle the wagons, gather our friends close, and lock the doors. Maybe if we close our eyes and ears to the outside world, we can cocoon ourselves within a community that believes and looks and acts just like we do, and we’ll call the people in it our neighbors. Then it won’t cost us a thing to love our neighbors as ourselves, because we’ll barely be able to distinguish between our neighbors and ourselves.

But how best to circle the wagons is not the question my son is asking. He isn’t seeking an easy way out; he wants to know the practical how-to. He wants to know how to love others in a world that sometimes greets a hug with a punch and a greeting with a curse.

My son wants to know what it looks like to love on the playground when bullies taunt him and tell him he doesn’t belong because of the color of his skin. And I wonder what it looks like to love in the coffee shop, in the pews, and on Main Street when confederate flags line the sidewalks downtown. He wonders how to love when another kid breaks his toy, and I want to know how to love when another person breaks my heart. We both want to stop all the pain and the brutality, but we can’t. So how do we live and love in the midst of it?

I think it starts with resisting that knee-jerk temptation to circle the wagons. Instead of closing ourselves off, we can dive heart-first into the mess, wrap our arms around each other, and climb out together. In a world gone mad, we can choose to stay in the thick of it and love our way to the other side. We can seek understanding. We can be with instead of against. We can identify our blind spots and ask questions when we don’t understand someone else’s point of view. We can approach life with humility and courage, leaning into our discomfort and big feelings instead of denying them. We can live and love in a broken world by running toward this thing called empathy.

Empathy—to see another’s pain, understand the cause of it, and then feel with them.

The myth of empathy is that it requires shared experience. I don’t believe that’s true. While it certainly requires more work to empathize with those whose journeys differ from our own, it isn’t impossible. It simply requires our effort and a real desire to learn. We may have to look more carefully, expand our worldview, open our ears and homes and hearts, but we can empathize with others, regardless of our differences. We can choose to set aside our fears, judgments, and stereotypes. We can do this. And once we do, we will have taken our first steps on the path to loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Jesus, our wise teacher, said it this way: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 22:37–40).

Sometimes the simplest answers are the hardest answers. When everything is falling apart and the world around us is in chaos and we want to know what our part in the solution should be, we instinctively know the answer. The secular world calls it the Golden Rule, and the world’s major faith groups agree on their own version of it.

In 1993, a declaration drafted by Dr. Hans Küng was presented to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, Illinois. He called it Towards a Global Ethic: An Initial Declaration, and over two hundred faith leaders from over forty world religions signed their endorsement.¹ Since then, thousands of other faith leaders and global citizens have signed their agreement to this declaration that states, We must not live for ourselves alone, but should also serve others, never forgetting the children, the aged, the poor, the suffering, the disabled, the refugees, and the lonely. . . . We commit ourselves to this global ethic, to understanding one another, and . . . We invite all people, whether religious or not, to do the same.²

A quarter of a century has passed since the declaration was first presented and agreed upon by people from every faith and walk of life. We’ve seen global terrorism rise, human trafficking continue, and economies rise and fall and totally collapse. We’ve seen genocide, civil wars and foreign wars, refugees board overcrowded boats that capsize at sea, and children wash up on the shores of Greece and even our own borders. We’ve seen gun violence overtake our schools and homes and streets and malls and movie theaters and churches. Racism continues to infect minds and hearts, and hate still kills. The world is in crisis today, just as it was twenty-five years ago, and still we look to our left and right and ask ourselves, How do I live in this mess? What is my role?

We need to go back to Jesus’ words: love God and love your neighbor.

Just love. It’s the answer to everything—all our hurts, problems, divides. So why is it so hard to do? Why is the command to love so easily overlooked? How do we justify our tendency to respond instead with judgment, hate, discrimination, or even apathy? How do we get it so wrong? The clue lies right there in the verse, as we’re called to love your neighbor as yourself.

Loving our neighbor as ourselves is so much more than just asking, in any given situation, What would I want in this scenario? We know precisely what we’d want, because we have walked around in our own skin our entire lives. We know our own hopes, dreams, fears, disappointments, and hurts intimately. We know what touches our hearts, and we also know how to erect walls to keep out the pain. We’ve walked a lifetime in our own shoes. But loving our neighbor as ourselves requires a barefoot moment, a vulnerable stepping out of the known into the unknown so we can walk around for a while in someone else’s sneakers. To truly understand what it is they want, need, hope for, feel and, therefore, how to love them in that.

Empathy. That’s the often-overlooked key to it all. As we get to know each other, see one another, and hear one another, one person at a time, we will one day find our way back to love.


The Antidote to Indifference

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

Elie Wiesel

The story is told in the tenth chapter of Luke. Jesus is somewhere between the Sea of Galilee and Jerusalem, and a crowd has gathered to listen to him teach. In the crowd is a young lawyer who is eager to put Jesus to the test. When his chance comes, the lawyer steps forward and asks, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (v. 25).

Instead of answering directly, Jesus asks the lawyer what he thinks the answer might be.

The lawyer responds, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (v. 27). Simple.

You have answered correctly, Jesus says, and then adds, do this and you will live (v. 28).

But the lawyer, intent on justifying himself—intent on finding a reason not to do this—asks a follow-up question, And who is my neighbor? (v. 29). The lawyer knows the answer but is hoping for a loophole. His issue isn’t a lack of knowledge or understanding, but a lack of love.

If we’re honest, I think most of us also know the answer to the lawyer’s question. In today’s ever-connected world, we know the definition of neighbor isn’t limited by geography. We know it could be anyone from the person next door to our colleagues at work, the laborer in the next state, the refugees at the border, the inmate in the county jail, the addict in rehab, the officer patrolling the inner city, and the sweatshop worker across the ocean. And yet, along with the lawyer, we want a shortcut or a way out from loving our neighbors as ourselves. We want a loophole, because loving others as we love our own hearts, minds, souls, and bodies can be hard and costly.

So, what follow-up question would a twenty-first-century person ask Jesus at this point? Maybe the same question my son asked through his tears: But how? How do we love others when everything from faith to ethnicity to politics to economics to education to social systems seems to divide us? Jesus’ response to the young lawyer’s Who is my neighbor? also provides a perfect answer to our But how?

Jesus’ response is the parable of the good Samaritan.

As the story goes, a Jewish man is traveling by foot from Jericho to Jerusalem when he falls victim to a brutal mugging. He is robbed, stripped, and beaten within an inch of his life. A traveling priest notices the wounded man, but quickly moves to the other side of the road to pass by. A little later, a Levite approaches, sees the bloodied body in the street, and he, too, hurries by. Then a third man, a Samaritan, approaches, and this time the narrative shifts. His heart goes out to the man in the gutter and, instead of avoiding him, the Samaritan gently cleans and dresses the man’s wounds. He carefully lifts the man onto his own animal and takes him to an inn where he continues to nurse the man back to health. When the Samaritan has to leave, he pays the innkeeper to continue caring for the man until he can return and finish caring for him himself.

There are four men in this story: the Jewish man who is mugged, the Jewish priest, the Levite, and the Samaritan. When Jesus finishes telling the story, he asks the lawyer, Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? (v. 36).

To which the lawyer responds, The one who showed mercy (v. 37). The Samaritan.

Jesus says, You go and do likewise. In other words, Exactly! Now, go and love like that guy!

Jesus doesn’t define who is and isn’t a neighbor, because it’s fairly obvious who our neighbor is—everyone. Instead, he tells a story about how to love well.

First, he lays out the don’t list. Don’t rob, beat, and strip your neighbor. (Obviously.) Don’t rush by, ignore, or avoid the pain of others. Don’t pretend people aren’t hurting and dying. Don’t be too busy, too prejudiced, too arrogant, or too ignorant to love others. Don’t be indifferent.

Then he lays out the do list. Do notice others in their pain. Do care. Do stop. Do go out of your way. Do spend your time, energy, emotions, and resources to help where there is need. Do check on others. Do see the people around you and choose to get involved. Do love your neighbor.

What would an ordinary, everyday parable of the good Samaritan look like today? Perhaps it would look something like what I experienced in the parking lot of a grocery store on a warm spring day several years ago.

I was tired, hurried, frustrated, and ready to go home. My husband, John, was just behind me, pushing our then two-year-old son, Mareto, in the grocery cart. We were moving as fast as we could, trying to make it to the parking lot before Mareto’s meltdown got worse. I was frantically trying to open a cereal bar in an effort to stem the tears. Our then ten-month-old daughter, Arsema, was strapped to my chest in the Ergobaby carrier watching it all through wide eyes. Sweat beads were forming on my forehead, caused in part by my embarrassment, but mostly because I was hurrying through Trader Joe’s with an eighteen-pound baby strapped to my chest.

I sure didn’t feel like I was in the running for any mom-of-the-year awards. I felt like a hot mess. In fact, I was sincerely hoping no one was looking at us too closely . . . that somehow we were invisible to the people bustling around us. It was chaotic, exhausting, and, unfortunately, an all-too-common experience for us.

Our family doesn’t exactly blend in. Not only are we white parents with two black children—something that causes enough stares and questions all by itself—but our children have both physical and developmental disabilities. Which is to say, when we all go out together, we stand out. Sometimes, I don’t mind—I’m proud of my family. My children are beautiful and, even with all its broken pieces and jagged edges, so is our story.

Other times, though, on the days when we are very far from having it together, I do mind. Those are the days I want to blend in with the crowd and escape the curious stares. Some days, I just want to be a family. Not the adoptive family. Not the family with special-needs. Not the unique family . . . just a family. This was one of those days.

I was close to tears myself as I rushed through the doors with Arsema on my chest. I was hoping to get to the car as quickly as possible when a voice behind me slowed my steps.

Ma’am! the woman called out. I hoped and prayed I wasn’t the ma’am she was referring to.

Ma’am! the woman called out again.

When I stopped and turned, a young woman rushed toward me. A bright smile covered her face, and I immediately noticed her beautiful black curls, just like the black curls of the babe snuggled on my chest. I could see by the woman’s shirt that she worked at the grocery store, and I assumed I must have dropped something.

I just wanted you to have this bouquet, she said, holding out a colorful bunch of cut flowers. I couldn’t help but notice your family, she said, still smiling. You remind me of my own family. She explained that she too had been adopted, and she saw herself in my daughter and her parents in John and me.

Somehow, she saw past it all—past the tears, the sweat, and the frazzled mess. Instead of failure, she saw a mom trying her best. Instead of a mess, she saw beauty in one of our real family moments.

She handed me the flowers, and I managed to choke out a thank you.

Really, I said, this means the world to me.

She patted my shoulder, told me my family was beautiful, and walked back into the store.

My steps were much slower as I turned around and headed to the car, my cheeks wet with tears.

She didn’t know I was in the middle of some of the hardest days I’d known as a mother. She didn’t know our son had recently been diagnosed with autism, that we were just months into new therapies and medications, and were completely overwhelmed with setting up services and

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