I'll be honest in nursing school, they told us it was so important to have empathy, the instructors tried to teach what it was all about, but I could never quite understand how it was different from sympathy. I tried and tried to understand, but I just couldn't. Wasn't empathy feeling bad for someone who's in a sucky situation? <-- The answer to that is NO. Empathy is entirely different and it took me going through my hardest struggle, infertility with anxiety and depression, to figure it out.
It wasn't until I started suffering that I started understanding the difference in the 2 words, those first letters make a huge difference in how someone feels. Before our struggle, I didn't have many struggles in life. I maintained my weight, I was always towards the top of my class, I was president of my nursing student organization, I was on the state board's nursing student organization, I kind of always got what I wanted. It now makes me kind of sick thinking about how easy life used to be before we started dealing with infertility.
I wouldn't wish this journey on my worst enemy and yet, I find myself grateful looking back at the past 2 years and all that's happened because of our struggle. I NOW have empathy. I can get into your shoes, feel your pain, know your hurt (even if it's from a different situation) because I too know pain. For me it's the pain of grieving over the child you never knew each and every month. The child who, this time last year, you envisioned crawling in the yard, the child who you longed to hear their cries and be up all night with. I know pain, I know heartache, I know what it means to question God's plan, yet still lean into Him and trust that He has a vision for my life far better than anything I could ever imagine <-- I didn't realize that before our struggle.
So the next time someone you know or love is hurting, in pain, going through a hard time, try your hardest to put yourself completely in their position, try to feel what they're going through and be there for them. You won't always have the right words to say, but think about what you would want to be told if you were in their position. Empathy is not feeling bad for someone else (that's sympathy), empathy is deeper than that, it takes opening yourself up to some pain to learn more about that person you love and their journey.