This is love: to feel as another person feels; and to act in response.
We can make much of love, but in the end it’s pretty simple. If we cannot feel as the other feels we don’t really get it.
Feeling as another feels is not as simple as it sounds. Of course we know this. We have seasons, especially when we suffer, where we feel much closer to our empathic cords, but the reality is life tends back to normal and we forget. We forget the needs of others, especially as our needs drown theirs out.
The Gift to Another Person Is Often a Gift to Ourselves
The paradox involved in sacrificing our needs for another’s becomes a boomerang paradox; the irony is, the more we feel for, and help others, the more we feel and, therefore, help ourselves.
Help others and we feel.
When we feel for others, walking in their shoes, God puts us more in touch with our own feelings. When we bless others they inevitably bless us, whether it’s their intention or not; we are blessed even in reflecting over what we have done for them.
So this is about actively serving by acting ourselves into new ways of thinking because we are touched at a feeling level. This should never our primary concern, but it is a very cool by-product. The less we serve our selfish interest the more felt blessing we receive for having made an impact on others’ lives in God’s name.
Indicators of Feeling As the Other Feels
How do we really know when we are feeling as the other person feels?
This has to be felt phenomena; something that God’s Spirit helps us to understand as we venture into it.
When we feel as the other person feels we gain confirmation, usually in their feedback, whether verbally or nonverbally. This is the sense that something unusual as happened; a special connection has occurred, even fleetingly. It’s a special thing that happens between two people and it transforms the relationship. These two, having had such an experience, have a shared history now even though it may have only lasted minutes. A bond of trust has been forged that is now not easily broken. And beyond the weary memory there is an unspoken empathic interpsychic link between them. It’s evidence that God was there.
As human beings we were made to connect. The capacity to feel as another person feels helps us to feel the highest of human experience; the blessings of kindness. This is love: to feel as another person feels; and to act in response.
A relationship with Jesus Christ is the authentic way of feeling as the other feels.
With Jesus we no longer need to add pretence or contrived effort to make our relationships work. Ultimately our lives work so much better when we put the things of God first, by relating with others in ways that are simply intentioned in love without thought of gain. When we put the things of God first—in this way via our interest in understanding how another feels—many of the things we worry about wither in significance. (This is the promise of Matthew 6:33.) This is because we value another soul, who, like us, has been created distinctively in the image of God. When we feel as another person feels, emulating Jesus, we suddenly understand so much more of life.
For more on loving as Jesus loves, by feeling as others feel, go to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5–7.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.