“I feel so bad for her.” Do you feel badly because she’s found herself in a terrible situation, or because you can feel and empathize with what she’s going through? If, like many people, you’ve lived a relatively un-traumatized life, how do you shift yourself from sympathy to the deeper empathy? Well, this requires intentionality.

Sympathy vs. Empathy.

You see, it’s pretty easy to have sympathy – to express sadness for another’s misfortune. But empathy means you deeply understand another person’s suffering and experience. With Lia, the first girl I hosted in my Spare Room, I found myself shocked at many of her stories about living in the street. But it wasn’t until I garnered the courage to live at a homeless shelter for a week, that I began to understand what she went through.

Now, living in a shelter for a few days doesn’t sound like much. And compared to those who find themselves unexpectedly unsheltered, it truly isn’t. Yet, orchestrating the experience, with a desire to better understand what Lia went through, required some intentionality. I called around to find a shelter. I explained my situation, wanting to live there for a week, yet not claim a bed that someone else needed. Then, I took a bus to the shelter and moved in. I don’t think I’ve quite been the same, since.

On intentionality.

Through the last two decades, our family has opened up our home to others. Like living at the shelter all those years ago, intentional giving isn’t always easy. We must remind ourselves that giving isn’t for the sake of having the recipient express gratitude. It’s not action taken, so that we can feel good. Rather, we give regardless of response or outcome. We acknowledge that we have been blessed with so much and lean into generosity, regardless of response.

My friend, Chuck, has his family do an annual “Rice and Beans week.” This teaches his kids and reminds the adults to appreciate the diversity of flavors we enjoy every day. They remember that much of the world subsists on this diet every. single. day. We did this one year, and it ain’t easy! If you’re interested to try the challenge yourself, check this out.

I recently chatted with Heather on the “Just Published” podcast by WNORTH, where we discussed this topic (starting at 22min). Click here to listen to the whole discussion.

To read more about Lia and the other kids we’re cared for in The Spare Room, check out the book on amazon or other major sales platforms.

Photo credit: heartmanity.com