Several years ago I was asked to speak at a prayer conference that took place about two hours away from our home. My husband offered to be my escort and chauffeur. The conference ended on a Saturday evening and I was totally exhausted as I climbed into our ride—a very used, 1985 full-size Ford van. My husband loaded our luggage in the pouring rain and jumped in to start home.
About an hour into the winding mountain drive, we had a blowout.
He managed to pull off the road onto the very narrow shoulder that sloped off to a sharp, Ozark Mountain descent. He went to check things out. When he opened the van door to pull out some tools, he suggested that I lie down on the couch in the back and try to get some sleep. This was going to take a while. The rain was still coming down in sheets.
An operation that he could normally perform in a matter of moments, took closer to two hours because of several complications: the torrential downpour, a tire jack that kept sliding down the muddy incline, tire lug nuts that wouldn’t cooperate with the tire tool thingy, traffic that sent road spray shooting into his face every few moments . . . it was a bad deal.
Completely soaked and physically spent, my faithful road warrior climbed back in the vehicle. In my groggy, half-conscious state, it seemed like I’d only been asleep a few minutes. I raised my head from the couch in the back to cheerily call out, “Well, that wasn’t too bad!”
He turned his mud-streaked face to look back in the darkness with a reply, but I’d already settled back into nap position.
Amazingly, he laughs about this story now. But at the time, my lack of appreciation left him feeling pretty whipped. I missed the opportunity to loudly cheer and applaud his manly victory over the wild elements of nature and machinery! That was a prime opportunity to voice a loud affirmation and express admiration for tackling a difficult challenge—and I missed it!
I’m not justifying my thoughtless behavior, but one reason I failed to fully appreciate my husband’s accomplishment that night was that I hadn’t experienced all he’d been through. I hadn’t dealt with the stubborn lug nuts or the road spray in my face. I hadn’t struggled in knee-deep mud with a worn-out tire jack. I didn’t have to work on a steep incline in blinding rain because I was napping in the nice warm van!
In order to truly appreciate his service to me that night, I needed to practice the important process of empathy.
If someone could bottle and sell empathy, they’d probably win the Nobel Prize, find the solution to world peace, and put divorce lawyers out of business.
When I empathize with others, I’m identifying with them through imagining what they’re experiencing. I’m crawling into their skin to view the world through their eyes and I’m vicariously experiencing their joys and sorrows, pain and happiness, pressures and disappointments. When I put myself in their shoes, compassion and understanding are birthed.
How about pausing now and asking God to open your eyes to where you’ve lacked empathy?
How can you crawl into your husband’s skin today?
You can hear me talk more about marriage issues on this FamilyLife Today interview.
Excerpted from Fierce Women, copyright ©2012 by Kimberly Wagner. Used with permission of Moody Publishers. This post was originally published at FamilyLifeToday.