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5 GRACE Biblical Counseling Skills: Part 4

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Note: Developed from Spiritual Friends. Spiritual Friends is part of the ABC’s biblical counseling curriculum and the ABC’s certification process. In Spiritual Friends you learn how to develop twenty-two biblical counseling relational competencies.

This is the fourth in a ten-part ABC series. In this blog series, we’re learning five biblical counseling and one-another skills by using the acronym GRACE.

·         G—Grace Connecting: Proverbs 27:6

·         R—Rich Soul Empathizing: Romans 12:15

·         A—Accurate/Active Spiritual Listening: John 2:23-4:43

·         C—Caring Spiritual Conversations: Ephesians 4:29

·         E—Empathetic Scriptural Explorations: Isaiah 61:1-3

How to Empathize with the Soul: Climbing in the Casket—Hebrews 4:15-16

Soul empathy involves our capacity for “as if” relating. Ambrose wrote:

“Show compassion for those who suffer. Suffer with those who are in trouble as if being in trouble with them.”

Soul empathy requires compassionate imagination. We need to imagine what it is like for our friends to experience their life stories. To understand others with intimate knowledge, we must read into their experiences asking, “What is it like to experience and perceive the world through their stories?”

Hebrews 2:14-18 and 4:15-16 teach that empathy is not less than, but more than, intellectual. It is also experiential. Biblical, Christ-like empathy shares the experiences of another, connecting through common inner experiences. Such soul sharing occurs by way of incarnation—entering another’s world and worldview.      

As a spiritual friend, the more human we are, the more real, the more fully alive and passionate, the more we will tune into others. Then we’ll experience a sympathetic resonance no matter the melody, dirge, minor or major key, or discordant note. 

The God of All Comfort

Empathy, however, does not come from sharing the same experience, situation, or suffering. No two people experience a situation identically, nor do they share the identical experience.

Empathy comes from sharing the same dependency upon God. The God of all comfort, comforts us in our specific trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the infinite comfort we receive from the God of all comfort.

I derive a core spiritual friendship principle from these concepts:

We will be empathetic with others to the degree that we are facing our struggles face-to-face with God.

When our soul is attuned to others, then we “pick up their radio waves, the vibes of their inner reactions.” Having accomplished this, we need to go the distance. We need to communicate to our spiritual friends in a way that helps them to “have empathy with our empathy.” They need to feel that we feel with them. Otherwise, their sorrow is not shared, it is simply “understood.” When both our “soul radios” are tuned to the same frequency, then we can share our soul friends’ experiences. We share their sorrows by climbing in the casket with them, and they know we are there.

While death is separation; shared sorrow is connection. It is the stitch connecting the wound. It is the healing balm. However, shared sorrow must never be a healing replacement. It must not replace grief. Shared sorrow does not purpose to eliminate sorrow, to rescue, or to cheer up. Shared sorrow purposes to help another to face and embrace sorrow.

“Levels” of Empathy

Effective soul empathy includes several “levels.”

1. Level One Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer?”

Here we understand our spiritual friend through God’s eyes. A foundational level of empathy, it builds

upon a universal biblical understanding of people.

2. Level Two Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer like me?”

Here we understand our spiritual friend through our eyes. A filtering level, we use our life as a filter through which we relate God’s truth to our friend’s life.

3. Level Three Empathy: “How would that affect an image bearer like him/her?”

Here we understand our spiritual friend through his or her eyes. We move from universal to unique empathy. In this final, deepest level of soul empathy we need to: 

a. Adopt Our Spiritual Friend’s Viewpoint:

We replace our internal frame of reference with his. We neither condone nor condemn, agree or disagree, at this point. We simply seek to see what it is like to be him—through his mindset and frame of reference.

b. Express Our Spiritual Friend’s Viewpoint:

We express in our own words what we sense that she has said, felt, and thought about the situation. We then seek clarification.

c. Encourage Our Spiritual Friend to Accept His/Her Viewpoint:

We nudge him to acknowledge his own experience. We help him to verbalize how he sees things and to accept his own perspective.

d. Help Our Spiritual Friend to Evaluate His/Her Viewpoint:

She needs to begin to assess how near or far her viewpoint is from reality.

The Rest of the Story

The relational competencies of Grace Connecting and Rich Soul Empathizing provide the first two sustaining “skills” necessary to help our spiritual friend’s faith survive. Through them, we build a trusting, mutual, caring relationship.

Having done so, what next? In particular, how do we use the Scriptures to skillfully discuss and explore applications specific to our spiritual friend? In our next post we begin to learn how through Accurate and Active Spiritual Listening.

Join the Conversation

Who do you have in your life who empathizes deeply and compassionately with you?

Posted on December 13, 2011