Hello friends! Please welcome Randi Fike to the blog today! I have known Randi for nearly 10 years, and during that time I have watched her walk a truly difficult path. When Randi and I first met, we often talked about the loss of her dad at a young age, and the impact it had on her life. Little did we know that soon after, Randi would also be faced with the loss of her mom. Randi has known deep and unsearchable suffering, but she is courageously placing it in God’s redemptive hands, and I know her words will minister to you today.
For a little about Randi, she lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with her husband, Adam, and two sons Jonas (5) & Arlo (2). She has a Masters of Divinity from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has served in various ministry roles for the last 10 years. Currently, Randi is raising her boys and authoring a blog: RandiKae.com. Her writing is a place for unpolished grief and pain, and I am so honored to have her words here today. Welcome, Randi!
CALLED TO EMPATHY
By: Randi Fike
My father died when I was seven-years-old, and my first response was to hide. I have a clear memory of a house full of people, but the only place I wanted to be was isolated. I went to my bedroom and crawled deep into my closest holding a picture of my father. In the picture, he sat on a couch with a denim shirt on. His dark hair and blue eyes were striking, but he wore a somewhat sad expression on his face. I believe the picture was taken while he was sick and fighting heart disease. As I stared into his face, I tried to wrap my mind around the fact that I would never see him again. I quietly wept alone.
An adult family friend interrupted me. She mumbled her sympathies, but I do not remember much else she said. At such a vulnerable moment, the awkwardness of the conversation made me feel embarrassed. She left me alone and she left me hiding. I quickly wiped my tears away, put the picture of my father back in its place, and joined the crowd of people again. I kept going that day, and hiding my pain became a pattern in my life.
This small interaction in my closet was a defining moment in my life. It is a memory that I still cannot shake, and it has driven me to become an advocate for grief. As I grow, I give grace to people when they react to others’ pain. It is one of the hardest areas to enter into. Sometimes, this space of pain is harder to enter when your own experience is limited or when you are hiding yourself. Even though I have experienced pain in my life, I still get anxious every time I enter into this space with someone. It is extremely scary and hard!
In the garden of Gethsemane, right before his death, Jesus invites a few of his disciples to come pray with him. Scripture says that he tells his disciples,
“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me” (Matthew 26:38, NIV).
Jesus is obviously deeply troubled as he falls to the ground to pray and asks God to take this cup from him. Three times he invites his disciples in this space with him to pray, and yet they fall asleep each time. I have always thought Jesus was asking his disciples to pray for their own benefit, so that they would have strength to endure losing Jesus and the persecution to come. That could have been part of the reason, but we cannot take the humanness out of Jesus. Jesus was terrified! He knew all that he was about to endure: betrayal, hatred, abandonment, mockery, grief, and extreme physical pain. At this moment, he was asking his disciples to be with him. Like all of us, he needed his trusted and closest friends to empathize with him during his darkest hour.
I am not sure why the disciples fell asleep. I wonder how they could have fallen asleep seeing their friend in this state! Maybe they were terrified too. Maybe they were so used to Jesus being their strong leader caring for others’ needs that they missed him. Maybe they just didn’t understand. Maybe they didn’t know how to be with him. Whatever the reason, we cannot be people who fall asleep!
God calls us to enter the garden of Gethsemane with Him. Sometimes He calls us to enter with our own pain, because He is a God that welcomes and cares for all of our emotions. Other times, He calls us by entering into the pain with others. We, as believers in Christ, are called to be empathetic toward others.
Empathy is not offering a few encouraging words, advice, or explanation of why some horrible thing happened. It is crawling into the closet with a grieving person and simply sitting with them. It is observing and listening, so that we can respond in ways that are needed most. Empathy is carrying the weight of another’s pain even if you don’t know or understand it personally. It is feeling with people.
Entering into this space does not have to be perfect. Pain is quite messy! But your presence is powerful in itself, especially when you choose to continue to show up for this person. It will not take away the pain, but they will be more understood and known.
Loss is a place where self-awareness and growth can happen. Relationships grow deeper when we are willing to enter the hard places. I have found that true in my relationship with God and my friends. We will all face many different types of pain in this life. Let us be the people willing to enter into our own pain as well as others. Let us not be the ones hiding or sleeping. It will be terrifying for sure, but let us follow Jesus into the garden of Gethsemane.