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A number of years ago I struggled through a difficult marriage and a painful divorce. My husband had broken his temple covenants and betrayed me. But he would continue as the father of my children, and I didn’t want a miserable, adversarial relationship indefinitely. So I made it a matter of prayer. I said something like this: “Heavenly Father, I know you love all your children, so I know you love my husband. Help me to feel about him the same way you feel about him.” The result was something of a miracle. The Lord couldn’t answer my desperate plea to help my husband change—no amount of faith will take away another person’s agency. But the Lord could take away my bitterness and help me feel empathy for my husband—not empathy in the sense that I could relate to his feelings completely, but empathy for him as a son of God. I knew that Christ had all the feelings of a tender parent for my husband, regardless of his behavior. The resulting empathy has made my life much easier.

“Love thy neighbour as thyself” is a commandment, not a suggestion. And Jesus’ instruction to “love one another; as I have loved you” is also a commandment. As disciples of Christ we accept this higher mandate. My take-home message today is that we enhance our ability to obey both of these commandments by enhancing our ability to feel and convey empathy. I challenge each of us to increase our empathy by (1) borrowing different lenses for viewing other people, (2) valuing our own life experiences and using them to help us understand the feelings of others, (3) courageously reaching out to others—focusing on their unique feelings and needs, and (4) praying for the understanding of others’ feelings that comes only through Christ. This is my prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Excerpt from Empathy and the Pure Love of Christ by Elaine Walton who was the director of the BYU School of Social Work when this devotional address was given on 30 July 2002. © Brigham Young University. All rights reserved.