What Hurting People Really Need

Date: March 14, 2023

Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15


Alone in a pit of pain. What do you need when you’re hurting?


When people are sad, we offer sympathy. We say we’re sorry. We feel sorry for them, but we’re secretly thankful it’s not us down in that pit of pain. What hurting people really need, say sociologists, is empathy, not sympathy. In short, empathy is feeling with people.[1]


Sociologist Brene Brown explains that sympathy looks down at a friend who’s stuck in a dark, overwhelming hole, and offers them a sandwich. Sympathy points out how things could be worse, using sentences that begin with “at least…” Empathy climbs right down into that hole and sits with the friend so that they’re not alone. In empathy we choose to remember our own painful times so that we can say, yes, I get it.


The Bible has an entire book devoted to a story about a man in such a pit. His name was Job and he had lost everything in life, including his health. His friends get things wrong in their attempts to comfort him; like us, they found that they couldn’t keep their advice to themselves. We want to throw a hurting friend a rope and get them out of that hole! But they did get one thing right initially. They came and “…sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words” (Job 2:13).


God wants to use us to minister His love to those that hurt. The Bible book of Romans sums it up like this: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).


[1] “RSA Short: Empathy.” Brené Brown, 19 Nov. 2021, https://brenebrown.com/videos/rsa-short-empathy/.