Every Wednesday night my small group of 9th grade boys leave my house and I’m totally exhausted. Significant conversations drain me. I realize you might think, “Really, you can have significant conversations with teenage boys?” Well, not all of them…but, usually one each night and I’ve come to realize that expressing empathy drains me.

Mother Teresa once said, “Empathy is YOUR pain in MY heart.”

What does empathy communicate to a teenager? It reveals a heart that cares. It sends a message: “I care about your hurt. You matter to me.”

Think of two teenagers that God has entrusted to your care:

  • Do you know their current grief?
  • Do you feel their continual pain?
  • When was the last time you took the time to really listen to their hurt?
  • Is there a strong enough relational connection that their pain hurts you?

I find it really easy for youth workers to remain at the superficial level with teenagers and talk about how their week went and then leave thinking, “It’s nice to be relational with teenagers.” But, in reflection, rarely do their conversations submerge beneath the surface.

I’m not suggesting that we share a meal with a teenager and break the ice by saying, “So what’s been your worst sin this week? What pain has it caused? Let’s talk about it… you gonna eat those fries?”

But, if you and I are going to learn to be the type of person/leader/minister who powers through surface agendas, discerns real life hurts, and reveals concern…what are the essentials that need to be developed?

I want to learn to be more empathetic. Let’s learn from one another. Chime in and help me. Where’s your struggle? What’s your strength?