What feelings or connotations do the words “empathy” and “compassion” evoke for you?
Empathy and compassion are both good and used with intentions of goodness and aid. Some people may even use these words interchangeably.
But, are they the same?
Empathy is identification with a feeling someone else is experiencing. When a friend experiences grief, we can understand perhaps because of our own experiences with loss. We hear of a child suffering from poverty, and we empathize with him or her, the family, and others impacted because we can imagine our own children hurting or have a strong desire to see all children cared for.
Compassion involves sympathy and empathy. Compassion and empathy both create feelings of identification and evoke a desire to treat another well.
The biggest difference? Compassion acts.
Empathy may lead to compassion (so empathy is no less important). Compassion takes empathy further by acting on those deep feelings of sorrow for another, for compassion is “accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate [that person’s] suffering” (paraphrased from Dictionary.com).
That desire to ease another person’s suffering causes action. Action out of love, action with the purpose of helping another, rather than self-satisfying purposes of boosted ego for “doing good.”
Is it any wonder God calls us to act with compassion?
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:32
“Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.” – 1 Peter 3:8
Compassionate feeling and action do not just fall into place, though. Where can we obtain compassion to abundantly spread it to others? How does it look as a follower of Christ?
Compassion comes from God (of course):
God commands acting compassionately towards others only after first loving Him:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.’” – Mark 12:30-31
Christ, always our Ultimate Example, models compassion:
- Matthew 9:36
- Matthew 14:14
- Luke 15:20 (the father feels empathy, acts with compassion, and welcomes the prodigal son)
How can we compassionately serve others? We can bake, cook, clean, comfort, encourage, care for, teach. We all have different God-given strengths to shower love on friends and strangers alike!
This others-focused action leads to unity among believers and God’s beloved people (Philippians 2:1-4). Loved people who clothe ourselves with compassion and kindness because we – you and me – are so loved.
Is there ever a situation when we cannot act? Sometimes we aren’t able to cook a meal, help with childcare, or halt a disease. But, we can always pray. We can lift each other up, focusing on God’s heart and His will, while requesting and praising for His help, His mercy, and His goodness.
How do you act with the compassion God gifts to us?
Caroline is a wife, mother of a beautiful and charming toddler son, avid reader, and writer. She writes about family, books, and living this grace-given faith authentically at her personal blog (Under God’s Mighty Hand) and can be found on Twitter.