Updated: Oct 25, 2022
When Jesus was asked by religious leaders of his day about the greatest commandment, he responded by instructing us to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength, and secondly, to love our neighbors as ourselves.
The latter can seem like a tall order in today’s divided world.
In light of so much acrimony, how can we feel connected to, let alone love, others?
It starts with remembering we are all connected because we are all living as exiles on earth when our citizenship is in heaven (Phil 3:20). It bonds us together. We are all longing for wholeness, for a sense of purpose and for a sense of belonging in this foreign land.
As my favorite R.E.M. song says, everybody hurts.
However, our judgment of others can easily separate us from them. It blinds us to why people are the way they are and what they might be going through.
So, what if instead of judging others, we turned to wonder? We can do that by asking ourselves a simple question, “What might be going on in their lives?”
Cleveland Clinic made a video a few years ago to train their staff on empathy (the ability to understand and share the feelings of another). The video beautifully illustrates that as we cross paths with someone, we never know what is going on in that person’s life.
The cool thing is research shows we are wired to empathize. Did you know that we have the same physiological response to other people’s pain as we do to our own? The same parts of our brain are activated whether it’s our own pain or another's.
Also, according to research done at Berkeley, the vagus nerve, a critical nerve that keeps your involuntary body functions operating at optimal levels (e.g., breathing, digestion, etc.), is activated by compassion. Their study involved showing participants images of suffering and distress and found those images activated the vagus nerve. And it showed the more compassion you feel, the stronger the vagus nerve response!
We are moved when we are able see another person’s true condition.
Once again, we have science proving that God’s instructions are always for our good. He created our bodies and knows our longing for connection – and even designed systems that help us do that. Incredible!
The enemy always wants us to focus on what divides us. Jesus wants us to focus on what is true and lead with love.
Your turn: Run Jesus’ instructions back through the scientific evidence that we are wired for connection and empathy. How does that change how you view the creation of your body? How does that change how you view Jesus’ instruction to love others? What does it look like to model Jesus in your life and extend grace instead of judgment?