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Author: Dan McDonald

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy, Charity’s Compass

Empathy is the ability to see, understand and love from deep within another’s soul.  In its highest forms, it does more than respond to the needs of another. It anticipates them. It does not ask, “What can I do for you?”  Rather, it knows what to do and acts without asking. And when it acts, it exposes the hand of God because it delivers ill-equipped humans to the threshold of omniscience.  It transforms what would otherwise be well-intended but misguided acts of kindness into miraculous revelations of God’s love that hit the mark so distinctly that the recipient feels loved and known. If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God. Empathy is charity’s compass.

If charity is the heart of God, then empathy is the mind of God.

Unfortunately, most people aren’t good at delivering love to others because they lack empathy.  I was reminded of this recently as I was listening to a woman with a paralyzed stomach (gastroparesis), who could not eat, tell me of how hurtful it was to have friends and neighbors in her church community bring her cookies, treats and goodies to cheer her up.  I experienced this, as well, when I was on a feeding tube.  People tend to deliver what they think is love in ways that they, the deliverer, would feel it.  They also tend to deliver love in ways that are convenient and comfortable for themselves.  This is not love.  I consider the adage “it’s the thought that counts” a soothing balm for the thoughtless that has probably done more damage to living the true gospel taught by Jesus than many other convenient aphorisms.  It’s false doctrine.  Don’t believe it.  The minute you find yourself saying that to excuse your misdelivery of love, repent and vow to do better next time.  Vow to show more empathy.

Delivering love is a skill.

Delivering love is a skill.  It doesn’t necessarily come naturally.  But, like any other skill, it can be learned, practiced and mastered.  You must be committed to practicing because delivering love is the ultimate imperative.  “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”  (Galatians 5:14.)

There is a deeper meaning to the golden rule, which I now call “the platinum rule.”  The proper interpretation of the golden rule is not “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  It’s “do unto others as they would have done unto them.”  What is it that “ye would [have] men … do to you?”  To treat you the way you want to be treated.  Jesus understood and taught this simple truth.  Give people what they want:

Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?

Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

(Matthew 7:9-11.)

If your son asks for bread, don’t give him a rock.  If he needs fish, don’t give him a snake.  It all seems so simple.  But the reason I call this the “platinum rule” is because it takes a higher investment in others to live it.  You have to know people well enough to understand what they want and need.  You have to understand them.  Love takes empathy.

You cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously.

The whole condescension of God illustrates this.  It teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved.  We can do this through thoughtful focus, using our imagination, listening, seeking the Holy Ghost, earnestly striving to experience the pain and suffering of others, learning how to be more perceptive and many other gifts and talents that we can practice and develop.  I call this practicing at-one-ment.  It is way of learning to identify with others.

Jesus Christ’s love for us is so perfect and complete because, in a literal and figurative sense, he “became us.”  (Hebrews 7:26.)  In fact, “in all things it behooved him to be made like unto” us so “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people.  For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.”  (Hebrews 2:17-18.)

If you want to become a disciple of Jesus you must learn and practice empathy.  I have written an entire chapter about this in my book Built to LoveThere are many excellent resources out there for learning how to develop empathy for others.  I would strongly urge you to seek out these and other resources.  If you lack the ability to properly empathize you cannot deliver love to others as you ought.

Perfection

Perfection

Perfection is not the attainment of some static ideal. It is the ability to behold and belove the beauty of the imperfect. We don’t behold the Corona Arch and think, “If only I could shave off a few tons over here and put it over there …. then it would be perfect.” Likewise, we shouldn’t do that to ourselves. We shouldn’t do that to each other.

Instead, we must learn how to stand with awe and wonder at all of God’s incredible works in progress without taint of ego, judgment or thirst to control. That doesn’t mean we ignore reality and call the imperfect perfect. It means that we gaze upon our weather-beaten and wrinkled faces and look into each others’ world-weary eyes with a deep sense of respect. It means that we listen to the relentless winds of chance and circumstance howl, whistle and wend their way through the cracks and crevices of our deepest insecurities, our most cherished relationships, our most exposed and vulnerable parts, and we ask, “How are we still standing?”

Loving what’s broken, bent, shaved off, cut away, beaten down, worn out, fractured and fragile … that’s what makes us perfect. We are all monuments, worthy of being beheld.

 

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

The Two Things That Will Give You Confidence to Meet God

As I thought I was approaching death, I realized with stunning clarity that there are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue. “Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men … and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; THEN shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) This comes from a text recorded in 1839.

There are two things that will give you confidence to meet God and two things only: (1) charity for all and (2) virtue.

You are worth loving.

What did the word “virtue” mean at that time? While I am still trying to crystalize its meaning in my mind, one thing of which I am certain is that “virtue” did not have the primary meaning we assign to it today—the practice of moral duties and the abstaining from vice. That was only a tertiary meaning. “Virtue” meant something quite different. The 1828 Webster’s dictionary entry for virtue gives, as its primary meaning, “1. Strength; that substance or quality of physical bodies, by which they act and produce effects on other bodies.”

The Latin root from which the word derives—virtus—”was a specific virtue in Ancient Rome. It carries connotations of valor, manliness, excellence, courage, character, and worth ….”  As I put these concepts together it seems that in 1839 “virtue” meant something more akin to the modern usage of the word “integrity.”

Your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

Under this view, the meaning of the text is that confidence comes from (1) feeling charity for others (to the extent that it fills our innermost parts) and (2) having integrity, which requires us to be genuine.  Consequenlty, to let virtue garnish your thoughts unceasingly does not mean to endlessly think about ways to avoid vice. Rather it suggests that your very consciousness is garnished or adorned with an abiding commitment to genuineness.

That our confidence before God depends upon our ability to love and be genuine makes sense to me because God’s essence is love (1 John 4:8) and truth (John 14:6).  Jesus detested phonies.  He couldn’t stand being around pretentious and pious fakes.  “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.  Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”  (Matthew 23:27-28.)

Jesus detested phonies.

He was more comfortable around “the publican, standing afar off,” in the temple, who “would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner,” than the temple-attending, tithe-paying church member who “stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers ….”  (Luke 18:10-14.)

The self-awareness, confessional honesty and raw unpretentiousness of the publican is much more righteous to God than stodgy observance. Piousness swells the head, shrinks the heart and fosters self-deception and alienation from God. We draw near to him with our actions, but our hearts are far from him. (Matthew 15:8.)

To reject yourself is to reject God.

You must learn to love and accept yourself.

Simply put, resist the temptation to measure your righteousness by conformity, orthodoxy and obedience to the observable and measurable. If you want to be confident in this life and comfortable around God, be a loving and genuine person.  To do that, you must learn to love and accept yourself.

In order to love others, you must esteem and value yourself as much as you are told to esteem and value others.  This “self”-esteem is not grounded in a false, grandiose or unrealistic self-concept.  Instead, it is seeing yourself like God asks you to see others—as his child, of infinite worth and worth dying for.  True self-esteem is not grounded in your own merits.  After all, as Jesus Christ said, “without me ye can do nothing.”  (John 15:5.)  Instead, true self-esteem is grounded in God’s love and mercy toward you, his creation.  God created you.  You are worth loving.  You are worthy of giving love.  You were created in God’s image.  To reject yourself is to reject God.  You must first embrace your weakness before you can embrace God.

This may come as a surprise to you, but God already knows your faults and weaknesses. And chances are everyone around you is already aware of them, as well. There’s no use masking them.  Be more like the publican and less like the Pharisee.  Just be who you are, don’t be fake, acknowledge your faults, and do your best to love.

Letting virtue garnish your thoughts is a call to avoid self-deception.  It’s an invitation to self-awareness, self-acceptance and complete honesty.  Filter everything through that filter and you will become confident in the presence of God.  You will see that God loves you no matter what.  And then, when you are filled with that love and acceptance from God, you will be grounded enough to love as you ought.

Peace Like a River

Peace Like a River

The greatest of all power is the conscious abdication and relinquishment of it.  The outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross signify that if we are to be like him (Matthew 4:19; 5:48) we must surrender that almost insatiable human appetite to pull things in to ourselves, to hold on to them and to control.  Finding strength and power in helplessness, vulnerability and letting go seems contrary to our nature.  But Jesus demonstrated that accepting our loss of control and power is the gaining of it.  Jesus modeled this as he submitted to church and Roman authority.  Knowing that irony and paradox ignite the human soul like bellows to a flame, Jesus stirred within us a passion for justice by suffering injustice and sparked a spiritual blaze that burns in the hearts of billions to this day.

We too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.

If we are to be powerful, we too must learn to stretch out our arms and let go.  If we are to be transformed, we must learn to let go.  If we are to be happy, we must let go.  (Matthew 10:39; Matthew 16:25; 2 Corinthians 12:10.)

Jesus promised us peace.  (John 14:27.)  That peace is like a fountain of living water—a river—flowing within and through us.  (John 7:38; John 4:14.)  We must get out of its way and let it flow through us if we are to ever find peace and happiness.

You are out of control if you need to be in control.

We were created to be a part of the divine flow, conduits for the presence of God.  (Romans 8:10; 2 Corinthians 4:6-7; Galatians 1:15-16Galatians 2:20; Ephesians 3:17.)  You, like Jesus, are called to be the revelation of God through the enfleshment of the Word.  (John 1:14.)

Thirst for control dams the beauty of the flow and destroys our peace.

Get out of the way.  You are out of control if you need to be in control.  You are weak if you feel that you must be strong.  Any time you try to cage, capture, contain or control someone or something you are damming and destroying the peace and beauty of the flow.  And then you are damned.

You are dammed and damned if you are preoccupied with trying to receive revelation from God rather than revealing God to others through your goodness.

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you spread your arms and reach to grasp rather than reach to give.

You are dammed and damned when you stretch and strive to pull things and pull others in to you as opposed to projecting and unleashing light, love and encouragement.  (Luke 11:33.)

You are dammed and damned when you clamor for attention instead of attending to others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly worry about your health instead of healing others.

You are dammed and damned when you constantly think about your own appetites and yearnings instead of yearning to feed others who are hungry … and not just for food.

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

You are dammed and damned when you are preoccupied with knowing the right or being right instead of righting what you know to be the wrong within yourself.  (Matthew 7:3-5.)

You are dammed and damned when you care more about how others feel about you than how you feel about others.

You are dammed and damned if you constantly worry about the future or the past instead of doing good in the present.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

You are dammed and damned if you think you can know God through study, prayer and ritual when God says the way to know him is to know your neighbor.  (John 5:37-40; Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you are always looking for God in some holy place when he has said, “I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

You are dammed and damned if you think some method, magic or incantation will bring you to God when God has said your neighbor is his incarnation.

Pray we must.

But for what?

Not revelation.  Transformation.

We don’t need much guidance (a guise for control … a wish to make God the genie in our lamp).  This or that?  It matters not.

Not revelation.  Transformation.

What matters is courage, kindness, integrity, compassion.

To see God in another’s face.

“I’m always there in another’s face.”  (Matthew 25:31-40.)

Atonement.

Reconciliation.

To see that in another … God in his place!

The creed weary and ritual worn Jesus showed us the way.

To have the courage and the power to let go, get out of the way, and thus live it … for this I pray.