Parenting

Compassion and the True Meaning of Empathy

 Can we learn to feel other’s pain?

Can we learn to feel other’s pain?

The word compassion comes from the Latin “with” and “suffering.”

The Greek equivalent, “empathy” is “in” plus “pain.”

It means “I hurt when you hurt.”

How do we raise a child, a family, a society of true compassion and empathy? Joan Halifax has some marvelous thought on nurturing compassion in a oft-times cold and polarized world.

Great talk for Cross+Gen conversations.

https://www.ted.com/talks/joan_halifax

Killing Sunday School - Birthing Cross+Gen

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Just went to the printer - Volume 3 is written by educational/worship pioneers from a dozen churches who've spent the last two years trying to figure out Cross+Gen and are willing to share their strategies, mistakes, and joys of life with the adjacent possible of the wisdom of the elder and the wonder of the child in covenant relationships every week at church and in prayer every night in every home. Thanks to all who dared and shared. see you in Estes Park!

Raising A Teen Who Talks Every Night?

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Imagine

No... Act

He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents.

MA L A C H I 4 : 6

Imagine raising a daughter who wouldn’t think of going to bed without talking to you about her highs and lows every night, even though she’s 16.

Imagine raising a son who won’t turn out the lights without asking you about your day, praying for your highs and lows, and blessing you.

Imagine growing up in a home where everyone feels loved, valued and heard every night; a family that seeks God’s wisdom, will and Word at the center of their lives; an intimate community where every night is an experience of caring, sharing, comfort and peace. Does this sound like an impossible dream?

It isn’t.

Does it sound like an improbable dream?

Maybe.

One thing is for sure: This dream is not going to magically materialize without intention, commitment and a workable plan on your part to make it happen. Having a close and caring family is a beautiful dream, but a dream without a plan isn’t worth a nickel. However, a dream with a workable plan may be worth a million bucks.

Three Reflections

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Three

Reflections

We've invested the last month on the psychology, sociology and neurology of sharing highs and lows. Let's wrap up with three reflections:

Reflection 1

Think of your highest high and lowest low in the last five years.

• Where was God in the high?

• Where was God in the low?

• What wisdom have you gained from these two experiences?

Reflection 2

Put on your psychologist’s hat for a moment. What happens to a person when he or she:

• Shares a significant high with a trusted friend?

• Shares a significant low with a trusted friend?

• Falls asleep every night of his or her life knowing that he or she is loved, heard and valued?

Reflection 3

Put on your sociologist’s hat for a moment. What happens to a family when they:

• Reflect on the significant highs of the day every night?

• Reflect on the significant lows of the day every night?

• Share highs and lows, caring conversations, faith talk and reflection at the end of the day (as opposed to mornings, after school, in the car or around the dinner table)?

FAITH5 for Absent Parents

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What if you frequently have to go out of town on business? What if you are sitting on a military base half a world away? What if you are sitting in a jail or prison cell? All the more reason to connect with your kids! Your kids need you now more than ever in order to feel loved, secure and safe.

Just because you're gone doesn't mean you have to be absent.

Do everything in your power to check in regularly with your kids, ask about their highs and lows, share your own concerns, pray for them, ask for their prayers, and offer your blessing. Don’t let physical distance create emotional distance. Leverage the technology available to Skype or FaceTime or phone them. So much of communication happens without words. The smile, the eyes, the face muscles, the visual clues say more than mere words ever could. 

Let your loved ones know that even though you are away, you care too much about them to let a single day go by without building a memory they will treasure and take with them the rest of their lives. They will remember that their daddy or mommy always had time for them. You can’t buy that kind of message for a child. It will mean more to him or her than you will ever know.

Two Rules and Three Tools for Nightly Home Huddles (Photographs and Emotographs)

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Two Rules
We only had two rules for sharing highs and lows when our children were young. First, no interruptions. When someone was sharing, no one else was allowed to speak, except to ask clarifying questions. Second, no judgment. The first time you judge your children’s highs or lows may be the last time they risk being honest with you about what is really going on in their lives.

Three Tools
With the hindsight of a nostalgic empty-nester and the insight of a lot more reading in neurology since my children were babies, I now know of three tools I wish I had used in the Melheim home while they were young. These are:

1. A timer: Brevity is the way to go for highs and lows, so set a time limit for the amount of sharing. Save the longer conversation for the amount of sharing. Save the longer conversation for Step 3: Talk.

2. Journaling: Writing before speaking is brilliant neurology. It connects thought to muscles, motions to emotions, and eyes to fingers. It begins the process of moving a person’s short-term memory from scratch pad (hippocampus) to hard drive (neo cortex). Writing connects the brain to the body to the environment, thus engaging the whole mind. It wires and fires and connects the new to what you already knew, setting the pieces in place for insight, problem-solving and innovation. If you want to grow reflective children into wise and thankful adults, start journaling.

3. Photographs and “emotographs”: As long as you are journaling words, why not consider adding a journal of images? Take at least one photo every day and add it to the mix.

Mental and emotional snapshots recorded in the form of simple sentences about your highs, lows and prayers serve as great mementos. Add a photo each day along with your writing and your journal will become the kind of scrapbook I call an emotograph—a rich, simple, memory- jogging tool that ensures that the day and its lessons will never be forgotten.

The 20-percent Marriage Insurance Policy

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Sharing highs and lows isn’t healthy just for kids—journaling highs and lows followed by sharing thoughts out loud is also great for marriages. According to Richard Wiseman in 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, “Partners who spend a few moments each week committing their deepest thoughts and feelings about their relationship to paper boost their chances that they will stick together by more than 20 percent. Such ‘expressive writing’ results in partners using more positive language when they speak to each other, leading to a healthier and happier relationship.”

Setting aside 5 to 15 minutes each night for these communication practices might not merely hold a family together; it might also teach children—and adults—how to hold a marriage together.

Neurologically, less is more

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According to brain and spirituality researchers Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman in Words Can Change Your Brain, the listener’s brain can only recall about 10 seconds of content. Beyond that, nothing is going to register. As Newberg and Waldman write:

"If you talk for several minutes, the other person’s brain will only recall a fraction of what you’ve said, and it might not be the part you want to convey. The solution? Brevity followed by intense listening to make sure the other person has grasped the key points of what you said. If they have, great! You can say another sentence. If not, why move on? If the other person hasn’t understood you, what good will it do?"

Here’s the other good news if you have a child or teen (or spouse) who doesn't talk much: The person who shares highs and lows in a couple sentences in 10 to 20 seconds may not only be more efficient in communicating - but they may be significantly more effective in getting messages across! Any one-way communication beyond a half-minute increases the likelihood that the message a person is trying to get across will not be registered and remembered by anyone.

You can keep pouring water in a full glass all you want, but it’s only going to hold so much. Everything else will just be a waste of water. Likewise, after 10 seconds, you can keep talking all you want, but if there is no give and take—no true conversation—everything else is just a waste of time, energy and breath.

Don't worry if highs and lows are done in a couple sentences or syllables. Worry if they aren't done at all.

Bigger than Our Biggest Problems

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God is bigger

than the Boogie Man

Yes, God is Bigger Than The Boogie Man
 

Admitting lows before God and each other will show your family that God is bigger than their biggest complaints, bigger than their biggest problems, and bigger than their biggest questions. It will show your children that it is okay to verbalize what is on their hearts. It teaches them to hang on and wrestle with God and God’s people when answers aren’t apparent and pain is unrelenting.

Sharing lows in the context of your primary faith community— your family—will give your child experience in looking for and leaning toward God and God’s people, especially in the midst of problems. It teaches them how to get real, to deal and to heal. It also calls Christ into the center of the problem, discussion and solution.

As Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (Matt. 18:20).

A Theology of Sharing Lows

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The Bible calls us again and again to place our problems before one another and God for mutual care and support during hard times. The following is a week’s worth of nightly compassion Scriptures. As you read and consider this list, what jumps out?

  • Weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:5).
  • Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).
  • And be kind to one another, tenderhearted (Eph. 4:32).
  • Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4).
  • Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing (1 Thess. 5:11).
  • Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28).
  • Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you (1 Pet. 5:7).

Sharing lows teaches your children that they are part of life. Sharing these lows before God and a trusted Christian family or a “family of friends” shows your children that they are never alone. Admitting disappointment, weakness, fear and anger out loud is what healthy people do. It reinforces the Church at its most elemental level.

Why not start tonight?

Newspaper Woes as Personal Lows

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Look
Outside
Self

On nights when your child can’t think of a personal low, you might want to bring a newspaper or magazine into your sharing time. Challenge your children to look outside themselves a moment. Look around and look again (peri+spect and re+spect). You don’t need to flip too far into the paper to realize that there are millions of children around the world who are starving, without homes, and trapped in poverty. Look around and look again. There is a world of pain, a world in need, and a world of insatiable greed. Look around and look again.

Maybe God is calling your child to be part of the solution with his or her life rather than part of the problem. Look around and look again. That child in the newspaper doesn’t have shoes on his or her feet or a bed to sleep in, and here your children are complaining about having to shop at Walmart for school clothes or drive an old car to school! 

Look around and look again, this time with the eyes of Christ. The experience of bringing a newspaper into the nightly ritual can grow a self-centered, inward-turning child into a young adult who is both aware and filled with such care that he actually does something for this hurting world with his life.

TOMORROW: A Theology of Sharing Lows

Stay Up and Fight

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Don't go to
bed mad

Stay up and fight

"Don’t go to bed mad. Stay up and fight."

PHYLLIS DILLER

Sharing both highs and lows teaches people how to forgive. It builds empathy (em+pathos, meaning “in pain”), sympathy (sym+pathos, meaning “with pain”), compassion (com+passion, meaning “suffering along with”) and camaraderie.

It validates, affirms and strengthens the other person. It creates (commiserates) people who enter each other’s pain willingly to share it and bear it with them, rather than people who are dragged into another’s pain kicking and screaming and trying their best to get away from them. Sharing lows builds all these gifts and all that support into the core of the family ritual.

Why would you not want to give these gifts to your friends, your spouse, your child, your mom in the nursing home tonight... and every night?

Building an Empathetic Brain

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Training Your Brain

To Be Healthy

Like muscles, whatever areas of the brain you exercise will grow both in strength and capacity over time. As your children practice sharing feelings out loud and learn to listen to the feelings of those around them, they literally grow more brain tissue in the areas that process sympathy, empathy, compassion and deep care. Sharing a low literally rewires your child’s brain.

“It’s not just repeated physical actions that can rewire our brains,” writes Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. “Purely mental activity can also alter our neural circuitry, sometimes in far-reaching ways.”  

Carr also notes:  "The mind can essentially train itself to be healthy. It can train itself to be sick. The more a sufferer concentrates on his symptoms, the deeper those symptoms are etched into his neural circuits. . . . Although the use of any kind of tool can influence our thoughts and perspectives—the plow changed the outlook of the farmer, the microscope opened new worlds of mental exploration for the scientist—it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think." 

Sharing lows is an intellectual technology you have at your disposal. Use it nightly and you enlarge the capacity for empathy in your child’s brain. You will also turn your home into the kind of grace place that teaches, models and lives healing love every night.

So, Highs AND Lows tonight?