The Power of Sympathy

Historically, we haven’t been perfect at encouraging our children. We talk about that in our book, The Values-Driven Family:

We both grew up in homes where we knew we were loved; our parents did their very best in every way to bring us to adulthood successfully. Yet we both also would say that we grew up in an environment that leaned toward the critical. Whether reality or simply our own perception of things, we constantly felt like we had to “measure up,” and if we failed we felt a certain condemnation. This somewhat negative overtone to our family lives, however, didn’t really become obvious until we prayerfully considered our own shortcomings as parents. It was then that we saw that we were perpetuating this learned pattern of parenting, and propagating a spirit of discouragement rather than encouragement. As a result, our best efforts in training, discipline, and even relationship-building were falling short.

(p. 18)

We talk about a few ways that we’ve tried to overcome this deficiency, the least of which was to implement the use of the Core Value Chart (more about that and a free copy here). Developing healthy and loving relationships with each of our children has also been important–but I won’t deny that we’ve had our struggles there, too.

Personally, I’ve become convicted over time that not only is encouragement necessary in relationships, but so is sympathy. Not the artificial kind that comes across as being condescending, but a true desire to connect and understand. I reflected on this yet again this morning as I read from the book of Hebrews in my quiet time:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

True sympathy can mean giving a hug at just the right time. Perhaps, like the friends of Job, we sit in silence when words will get in the way. I find that I often express sympathy by sharing my own similar struggles or stories from my past–and I end by simply saying, “I understand.” This is my favorite way to express sympathy, because then I get to take the next step and share how the Lord has strengthened me or helped me to overcome, or I can express how I’ve experienced His comforting presence during difficult times. This is not only good for our family relationships, but it is also an excellent discipleship opportunity as we strive to help our children grow closer to the Lord.

I need the Lord to give me gentle reminders in this area quite often, because it’s easy to lose sight of sympathy in the everyday hustle-and-bustle of life. Think on these things today, and don’t forget to extend mercy to your children and give grace to help them in their time of need.

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