We had just checked out at the grocery store, and I scooted the cart over to the loading area to bag my groceries while Brenna sat patiently in the front seat of the cart chattering away.
We were at least 10 feet away from where the grocery store clerk sat at the cash register, when the clerk turned to a woman next in line and asked “Darlene, how ya feeling?”
“Oh, not so good,” the elderly woman admitted, and the clerk continued to chat with her about her ailments while other people checked out and loaded groceries around us.
It was a conversation happening in the background of my grocery packing and talking with Brenna, and I didn’t even realize that she had overheard.
But a few minutes later, we were loading our groceries into the car when the older woman slowly made her way to her car near us in the parking lot.
“Mama,” Brenna said. “Why does that lady not feel good?”
“Is she sick? Is she hurt? Does she have to go to the hospital?” she asked.
It was the sort of side conversation that any other person would have probably brushed off and not given a second thought to. But for Brenna, who very acutely understands what it means when someone says they “don’t feel good,” it was concerning. She wanted to know more. She wanted to know why, and she wanted the woman to feel better.
I have been struck by my daughter’s intense empathy when it comes to others who are sick or hurting, which I can only assume is largely because of her own experiences with illness and pain. We have realized over the years that our efforts to build Brenna’s self-awareness when it comes to her skin care have seemed to be resulting in a deeper sense of empathy – as she learns to be aware of how she is feeling, she has also become much more concerned with how others are feeling.
Today, Brenna has such a developed sense of empathy and compassion, at just 4 years old, and even at this young age, she has allowed her pain to be transformed into care for others.
Our personal battles can feel isolating, painful, debilitating – from chronic illness to a severe injury to a job loss to a natural disaster. And as parents, the last thing we want is for our children to experience anything hard, especially anything painful. But while I would never intentionally choose pain or discomfort or struggle for myself or my family, I have seen how much those things can mold us for the better when we allow them too.
No one’s life is without struggle, and the hard in life can look so many different ways. But one thing our hardships can do is to lead us into better connection with others when we explore and express our self-empathy and empathy for others.
When my daughter is concerned about the hurting of an elderly woman who is a complete stranger, I realize that all of her pain that comes with her severe skin disorder is not for nothing.
I realize that God is using her to reach others, to connect with others, to bring people closer to Him through her empathy and compassion.
When our differences feel isolating, God is connecting. When we are struggling, God is redeeming.
Nothing is too different and nothing is too difficult for God to use for His great purpose when we choose to be better instead of bitter, when we choose to redeem instead of regret, and when we choose to allow our hardships to connect us to others in compassion.
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