Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
THE ENCOURAGEMENT PROJECT
And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and He was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to Him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near Him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above Him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. Mark 2:2-4
Good morning Prayer Team!
Jesus told us that the greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor. There are many ways to love our neighbor. Encouragement is certainly an important way to express that love. Encouragement comes in different forms. The easiest form, perhaps, is verbal. We offer words of encouragement to our neighbor. Listening can provide encouragement as well, as people need sensitive ears to listen to problems and challenges.
Many times, however, encouragement involves more than words. It involves actions. In the story of the paralytic who was healed by Jesus, his four friends played a crucial role. They carried him to where Jesus was. He couldn’t have gotten there without them. And when they got to the house where Jesus was, and they realized they couldn’t get in, they got the man up on to the roof of the house, cut a hole in the roof, and lowered him to Jesus. Only then did the miracle of his healing occurred.
The miracle of our spiritual healing involves encouragement from others. And sometimes that encouragement is not only words but actions. And those actions require thinking and even risk-taking. Look at the friends who had to take a big risk lifting their friend onto the roof of a house.
Most people think that the word “empathy” with “sympathy”. “Empathy” includes the Greek word “pathos” which means “suffering.” When one is sympathetic, they say “I know what you are going through and I am sorry. When one is empathetic, it means “I’m going to get in there and suffer along with you.” Empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another. Empathy is what St. Paul refers to in Galatians 6:2 where he says “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
Empathy involves DO-ing something to alleviate the suffering and provide healing. We all suffer in physical ways. This is why we have doctors. We all suffer in emotional and spiritual ways as well. And while we have professionals like psychologists and priests who dedicate their lives to the emotional and spiritual being of others, anyone can offer assistance to those suffering in physical, emotional and spiritual ways. For those who are physically sick, we can lend a hand, or cook a meal and take it over to their house. We can drive people to doctor appointments or sit with their family in a waiting room during an operation. For those who are emotionally suffering, we can offer a kind ear, a shoulder to cry on and positive reinforcement. For those who are spiritually suffering, we can offer prayer and encouragement.
Empathy means picking up the phone, or getting in a car and visiting, sacrificing some time, showing some vulnerability and thinking outside the box. Yes, it is sometimes hard to be empathetic. But loving relationships are built when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable. Encouragement is a step that should lead to empathy, to vulnerability, to love. And love for one another fills God’s greatest commandment to us.
Lord, thank You for the many blessings in my life. Be with those whose lives do not have the blessings I enjoy. Help me to be a person not only of sympathy but one of empathy. Allow me to meet my responsibilities in life so that I have sufficient time to get my things done and still have time to serve others. Open my eyes and my heart so that when there is an opportunity to show empathy, that I am ready to do so. Amen.
Keep your eyes open for opportunities to show empathy and to help others! Make at least one unsolicited gesture of help today.
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