Empathy does not get lost in thoughts of yourself, but notices the other to the degree that you fall into step with them, and begin to feel what they feel.

by Rebekah Bled

“Again, this is the common experience. They walk ahead of us, and walk too fast, and forget us, they are so lost in thoughts of their own, and soon or late they disappear. The only mystery is that we expect it to be otherwise.” – From Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

I have this quote written in dark ink on a purple envelope, used as a bookmark in whatever book I’m reading as a reminder—a reminder that it takes very little to abandon someone, even the someones you love the most. All it takes, according to Marilynne Robinson, is walking a little faster than them, saying “yes” to one more thing, and then another, and another, getting absorbed in your own schedule, thoughts, and plans that your pace continues to increase. At some point, those you thought you were walking with are left behind, and though you didn’t mean it, you may have done the leaving.

The book Housekeeping presents the idea that abandonment takes many forms, most of them as subtle as being out of step without noticing that your rhythm no longer matches the one you were walking with.

Because I work with students, a demographic systemically abandoned by people older than them who push them to perform in place of relationship (for more on this, see the book Hurt by Chap Clark), this matters to me. Because I am the wife of a husband whose schedule does not always match mine, as he studies and I student-minister, this matters to me. Because I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, a person, this matters. It is, after all, so very easy to “get lost in thoughts of my own” and “disappear.” It is, after all, so easy to accidentally abandon.

I read Housekeeping on the plane en-route to a conference at Fuller Youth Institute a few weeks ago. This conference was based on unveiling and applying research for the purpose of churches reaching young adults. 10,000 hours of research is distilled in the book Growing Young by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Jake Mulder, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. I won’t say much here, because I really want you to read the book, but I will say that they discovered one critical piece of reaching young adults: empathy.

Feeling with.
Walking with.
Being with.

Paying attention to and taking seriously the life of another.

This is the polar opposite of abandonment. In fact, in my opinion, it is the antidote. Empathy does not get lost in thoughts of yourself, but notices the other to the degree that you fall into step with them, and begin to feel what they feel.

There is another quote in Housekeeping that speaks to this. The main character, Ruthie, is sure someone else has walked out on her, that she is quantifiably alone. All the feelings come then. All the fears no one is there to speak against. Until Ruthie’s Aunt Sylvie appears and hugs her. Ruthie hugs back and starts to explain her feelings, irrational as they sound when spoken aloud.

“I know, I know,” Sylvie replies, still hugging. “That was the song she rocked me to. I know, I know, I know.”

Walking with another.
Noticing another.

Being the one to wrap another inside an embrace and sing, “I know, I know, I know” and mean it.

Rebekah got her start in youth ministry at Christ Church in Montevideo, Uruguay and is now the Minister of Youth Discipleship at First United Methodist Church in Tulsa, OK. Rebekah is married to her soulmate, Philippe.  Together they like to drink mate, play soccer with their dogs, and dream of traveling the world. Rebekah has read Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy six times.

1 Comment on With

  1. wow… that was a great read. I would be truly amazed to see this in practice. with. Im sitting here thinking… who am I actually with.
    Thank you for this.

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