According to one definition, “empathy” means “understanding and entering into another’s feelings.”
When trying to empathize with hundreds of needy and hurting people in the same place at the same time, it can become overwhelming. I’ve felt that sense of being overwhelmed many times, especially when working with the food pantry where 300-400 families come every other week for help. As I talk to the different people and hear their stories, it can become very overwhelming.
But, I’ve learned that empathy (even empathizing with many people at once) can be less overwhelming when there are others there empathizing with them as well. Last week at the food pantry, several friends joined together to talk with the people who needed the extra groceries. We all talked to people, heard their stories, prayed with them. Sometimes I talked to people alone; sometimes others were with me. But, either way, it was a great encouragement knowing that we were serving people together.
The stories we heard were difficult – heart-breaking. But, we were able to help one another bear these burdens.
Yes, sometimes empathizing with others can be overwhelming. But, when serving with a group, you can encourage one another even when you are overwhelmed.