I was listening to a sermon awhile back, and the pastor shared an interesting story that struck a chord with me. The story provided insight into how we can love and serve other people better.
Waiting in Line at Mustang Donuts
He was waiting in line at Mustang Donuts to buy some donuts to bring home for his family. There was a long line, and people were getting impatient. A woman near the front of the line ordered, got her donuts, and pulled out her credit card to pay.
Mustang Donuts doesn’t accept credit cards. Cash only.
The lady didn’t know the rule. She dug around in her purse, but she didn’t have enough cash. She started to get anxious and embarrassed. The people who were waiting in line started to grumble and complain, impatient that they had to wait in line a little longer.
This Has Happened to Me Before
Just as she was about to give up and walk away empty handed, a man who was waiting in line walked up and offered to pay for her donuts. Overwhelmed, she gave him a hug and started to cry. Here’s what he said: “It’s okay—this has happened to me before.”
I don’t want us to miss how important this is. He had been in the same situation at some point in the past—not having any cash in a cash only place. He had experienced the same anxiety, embarrassment, and shame. He knew what she was experiencing and feeling. He had empathy for her. And from this place of empathy, he was motivated to express love for her by purchasing her donuts.
3 Ways to Increase Empathy
Empathy is a precursor to love and service. If we can’t put ourselves in another person’s shoes and feel their need, we won’t be motivated to help. Empathy is key. But how can we increase our empathy? Here are 3 ways:
- Don’t waste your pain. Often when people experience difficult situations, they want to avoid or escape from their pain as quickly as possible. We might distract ourselves from our pain by going to our addictions or numbing out with television. But our pain can promote empathy for others in need. Remember, the man in line at Mustang Donuts had experienced the same thing before. No one wants to hurt. No one wants to be in pain. But our pain helps us experience empathy for others in need.
- Get in touch with emotions. There are two key parts of empathy. One part is cognitive—we think about what it might be like to view life from the other person’s perspective. The second part is emotional—we actually experience what the other person is feeling. Often people have an easier time with thoughts than emotions. Sometimes we even struggle to identify what we are feeling ourselves! If we don’t know how to identify and talk about our own emotions, it will be difficult to experience empathy and understand the feelings of others.
- Reach out and engage. In our society today, we are less connected with other people. Our communities are more fragmented. Sure, we might have a thousand friends on Facebook, but actual face-to-face contact has dropped. A generation ago, we bowled together in leagues. Now, we go bowling alone. To increase our empathy for others, we have to have contact with other people and listen to their experience. So, reach out and engage with others, especially those who are different than you. Get involved in your community. Let your life be impacted by those who are around you.
What do you think about the connection between empathy and love? If you struggle to love and serve others who are in need, how much empathy do you experience? What is one way you could try to increase the level of empathy you experience for others in your life?