This past Sunday, my husband and I were privileged to attend a life class (small group) led by my brother-in-law Ryan. As we began studying the Word from I Peter 3, our hearts were directed to verse 8. I Peter 3:8 reads, “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
In our discussion of this verse, we came to the word sympathy. Ryan asked the group to share a definition or application for sympathy.
Immediately, my mind thought of a sympathy card! I have given out many sympathy cards to others who are grieving. Unfortunately, I also know exactly what it feels like to receive one of those cards. After Mom’s death, my mailbox was flooded with sympathy cards. While I am extremely grateful for each expression of love and sympathy that showed itself in the form of a card, I have learned from experience that Biblical sympathy extends much deeper than just a card!
In his first letter, Peter exhorts the believers to extend sympathy to/with others. He directs them to “enter into” the suffering of each other. As we “enter into” the suffering of others, it requires love in action, it takes an unselfish spirit, it requires a willingness to be uncomfortable, it takes a humbleness to serve, and it requires a vulnerability and openness to get “messy.”
Jesus Christ is our supreme example in showing us how to truly sympathize with others. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”
Jesus Christ “entered into” our suffering when He left the glory of Heaven and robed Himself in human flesh. His love took action as He hung on the Cross for my sin and was forsaken by His Father. He unselfishly gave His life to set mine free from eternal punishment and hopelessness. Jesus left His comforts to enter my world of pain, grief, and bondage. He humbled Himself and “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8-9)
Jesus Christ willingly entered into this broken, messy world of mine so I could be made whole, find freedom from self and sin, and experience a grace that whispers His love in such incredibly satisfying and healing ways!
Because of Jesus, we are now able to “enter into” and “sympathize” with the suffering of others. True sympathy flows from a heart directly connected to our Savior’s loving and kind heart. Without a proper understanding of His sympathy extended to all humanity, it is impossible to “enter into” the suffering of others.
Our natural flesh longs to avoid vulnerability, pain, humility, uncomfortableness, service to others, and a willingness to be messy and broken. But when we recognize and experience His sympathy and grace, we are able to reach into the lives of others’ pain and suffering.
So, in practical, everyday Christian living, what does sympathy really look like? I’ve found there is no one-size-fits-all description for sympathy! In my own experience, sympathy has shown up in these ways. . .
*A church member who filled my refrigerator, freezer, and pantry with wonderful meals and treats for my children upon arriving home from funeral and memorial services
*A personalized Christmas ornament with a picture of Mom and me given to me at my first Christmas without mom
*A handwritten letter from a friend who shared the many lessons she had learned from my mom
*The free babysitting of my kids on various occasions so I could steal away time for myself to grieve, process emotions, and relax from the everyday tasks
*Money donated to provide help with housework, meal prep, and routine tasks that seemed impossible to manage in my lowest valley of grief
*The teardrop necklace reminding me that no tear goes unnoticed by my loving Heavenly Father
*Countless meals made for our family and then served and shared with us together
*A day of horseback riding with friends on the day of the first anniversary of Mom’s death
*Lunch and meaningful gifts with special friends on the first anniversary of Mom’s death
*A special music cd given by a sweet friend to point my heart to God’s truth in the times of darkness
*Relaxing bath salts and lotions to ease the physical aches of suffering
*Massages provided to bring healing to my physical body
*An incredible day spent at the Grove Park Inn and Spa
*Friends who came over to my house to clean and cook for me. . .when I could barely function from the grief
*Companionship for doctor visits
*Weekly texts on Sunday mornings from a friend who knew Sundays were hard days for me
*The gift box (with gifts for each hour) and email from my sweet sister-in-law to encourage my heart with love and truth on the first anniversary day of Mom’s death
*The friends who greeted me at church with a hug and prayer
*Fresh flowers and treats for my kids left on my side porch
*Catered meals sent and delivered to our house during an especially hard week
*Gift cards sent at various times to relieve me from constant meal planning and prep
*Friends who did my laundry. . . just wanting to serve and love on me.
*Friends who entertained my kids so I could sleep during the day after the long hours of sleepless nights
*Hanging baskets sent by my NC friends in honor of Mom’s love for flowers
*Friends who organized childcare so Jason and I could attend Griefshare support group
*Friends who brought coffee to drink on my front porch together and just be with me
*Movie dates with girlfriends to remind me to laugh
*A best friend who showed up at all different hours of the day when she knew the anxiety and fear of being alone was crippling
*Friends who never judged or questioned. . . only loved, listened, and came
*A best girlfriends trip to NYC
*Late night phone calls to direct my heart to truth
*An encouraging personal email, tears, and shared prayers cheek to cheek with Ann Voskamp
*Gifts and outings for my children to distract their own hearts from grief
*Hugs. . .I’m talking about those big bear hugs where I could just let go and cry with no shame
*Texts, emails, and phone calls to remind me I am loved
And the list could go on and on!
What I know is that all of these acts of sympathy have cost someone something! And each act has pointed my heart to a God of love, grace, truth, rest, and hope!
As others have “entered into” my own suffering and grief, it has required love in action, it has taken an unselfish spirit, it has required a willingness to be uncomfortable, it has taken a humbleness to serve, and it has required a vulnerability and openness to get “messy.”
I am challenged more than ever to “enter into” the suffering of others in as many ways as I possibly can. With Jesus Christ as my example, I am called to extend His grace, mercy, and love to those hurting people in my own life! I’m asking myself the question, “Have I truly entered into the suffering of someone recently?”
Who needs your sympathy today? What steps do you need to take to encourage and support someone who is grieving or hurting? Take the risks involved and put your love into action today. You’ll never regret it!
In all of these ways, God has whispered His grace to me. . .and led me closer to His own kind heart. Lead someone to His heart today. He never disappoints.