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Empathy: The Secret Ingredient to Motherhood

Empathy: The Secret Ingredient to Motherhood

Recently a friend’s mother passed away. While she was not someone whom I have known all of my life, or whom I would term a very best friend; still, I found myself weeping for her loss and for her family.

As I sat dwelling on the separation of death, and the sorrow which it brings, I realized that I was also weeping for myself, and for all of humankind.

For how can we help each other find more peace with the experience of death, and how can I personally help alleviate suffering and sorrow in the lives of those around me?

An Innate Yearning

Do you ever experience frustration in moments such as these?

Deep in our hearts, God has imprinted within us His own image. What is His image in us? It is our desire for goodness, our innate yearnings for unity with other persons, our seeking for an infinite love, for joy which is not tarnished by sorrow, and ultimately, for a life of beautiful self-giving.

When I hear of tragedy, I yearn within to come to the rescue, to inspire hope amidst sorrow, and to be there with the suffering soul. I want my friend to know that she is not alone, and that her pain is recognized and given importance through my own witness.

Because I could not be there with her with my friend, I was rightly filled with sadness. It made me think of a quote by Bonnie Jean Wasmund, who wrote,

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Don’t we all want to be there for our friends, and to be a comfort to them by feeling what they feel?

Extending Empathy

The next morning, I awoke to the tired faces of my small children, and realized that here I was, the primary source of hope and joy in their young lives. As I wrestled with the question, “why did God give me this desire for empathy, when I don’t know how to live it out?”, I recognized part of the answer was right before my eyes: for motherhood may be the most opportune vocation in which one is called to exhibit continual compassion and tenderness.

I want to extend empathy for my friends and all those who are suffering out and beyond the four walls of my home, but I also may discover the deepest fulfillment to my desires right in the midst of the life in which God has given me. If He has called me to motherhood, then surely it is where I will live virtue most fully and discover the fulfillment of my desires.

As St. Philip Neri writes, “for he who does what God sends him daily, does not do a small thing.”

How do we live out empathy within our own homes, as wives and mothers? I am sure that you can give many examples from your daily life. For all mothers know that we are constantly comforting, and that we exemplify Christ’s command to comfort the afflicted amidst the daily struggles between our children, and in witnessing their pain and anxieties.

There are many tears to wipe, and countless questions to answer. When we wrap our arms around despairing little faces, or maybe around a confused teenager, we can remember that through this act of self-less love we are united with the Mother of Christ, and we are walking with her to comfort Christ in His agony.

When we offer our love as a sacrifice for another, this offering becomes beautiful and eternal in the eyes of God. Motherhood offers a very palpable opportunity to suffer with another, and to walk in the shoes of another, namely, the shoes of our spouse and our children.

When our babies are sick, we find that their suffering inflicts a deep pain within our own hearts, and we yearn with all of our being to take their pain upon ourselves. Indeed, this is what love does to a soul, it causes us to rise above ourselves for the sake of the other.

Because Christ’s mother experienced this desire to console her Son in his suffering to the utmost degree, she is the perfect example and inspiration for us in the midst of our trials.

Thinking About Others

As mothers, we can continually work on developing our instinct to extend empathy, and grow in the virtue of compassion within our homes and in our friendships. Before we make decisions, we can try to put ourselves in another’s shoes, and ask ourselves, “how will it affect others” or “how will it make them feel”?

The beautiful thing about motherhood is that it oftentimes forces us to grow in virtue, because we must think about someone else before ourselves. Our children demand that we be more occupied with their needs that with our own. When we find ourselves growing bitter about this and feeling that we never get time for ourselves, we should remember that when it is hard, and if the service of motherhood is drawing us further out of ourselves, then it is most likely the very best thing for us.

It is possible to find great joy in tending to the needs of our children, especially when we embrace this calling with joy. If we expend our energy primarily on making a difference in other people’s lives, we then experience the truth behind the phrase, “it is better to give than to receive”.

Isn’t motherhood the perfect vocation to discover happiness and serenity in caring for others?

Of course it is costly, and of course we must care for ourselves as best we can, but when we willingly embrace the trials and mortifications of motherhood, we find true joy and healing in the midst of it all.

About Emily Molitor

A graduate of Christendom College, Emily lives in Indiana with her husband and two daughters. After teaching elementary school, she is now a stay-at-home mom. She enjoys reading, writing, music, crafting and gardening. Meet Emily
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