One of the hidden gifts of suffering is empathy or “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. As my physical body continues to deteriorate and lose feeling, my heart becomes stronger and more sensitive. It’s a beautiful contradiction that shows, once again, how God is working out all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
This empathy isn’t reserved only for people who are presently intertwined in my life. It gushes out whenever I hear or read about someone who has or is experiencing physical pain similar to mine.
Since the Bible is filled with stories of broken, pain-filled people, I’ve discovered that empathy plays a key role in scripture becoming personal to me.
I was reading in Acts 3, a story that I’ve read several times without feeling any emotional attachment to. This chapter chronicles the story of a crippled beggar who is miraculously healed during his encounter with the true Healer, through the apostle Peter. You can read it below for yourself;
“Now a man crippled from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us! ‘So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you, In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. ” Acts 3:2-7
As I read through this story again, my heart caught in my throat at that last phrase… “instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. “
My feet and ankles have not looked or functioned normally since I was about eight years old. The appearance of my feet in the past few years would send a “normal” person racing to the ER. I have a very limited amount of sensation in them and an even more limited amount of motion. I have poor circulation, so most of the time, my feet are a purple-ish blue color and cold to the touch. I have periodic neuropothy (similar to a diabetic foot), arthritis from previous operations, scars, and occasional nerve pain that is so intense it will cause my entire autonomic nervous system to overreact, leading to severe muscle cramping all over my body, numbness, headaches, etc.
To put it simply, they are a burden. About two weeks ago, they became even more of a burden when I developed a tiny crack in the dry skin on my left heel. We had a cold snap up here in WI and temps were in the double negatives for a few days. This sudden drop in temperature caused the skin on my heel to crack open, which is not uncommon. However, because I cannot feel pain in that foot, I wasn’t aware of the crack. One morning I woke up and my foot felt different…different than my normal. My ankle felt like it had been bit by something and was having an allergic reaction. It felt hot and stiff and as the day progressed, the redness, swelling, and stiffness only increased.
Once I discovered the crack and realized what was actually going on, I knew that I needed to have it looked at immediately. While a crack like this in a normal foot would be painful and a nuisance at most, in my feet I knew it could quickly spiral into an infection that could put me in the hospital, surgery, or even an amputation if it wasn’t treated early enough.
After obtaining a last minute appointment with a local podiatrist and confirming through X-Ray that the infection had not spread into my bones or muscles, I was put on 24-48 hours of bed rest and two strong oral antibiotics, with the back-up plan of going to the ER for IV antibiotics if there wasn’t immediate improvement. Thankfully my body wasn’t resistant to the oral antibiotics (a risk because of how often I am on them for UTI’s from self-catheterizing) and the infection began to subside.
While the infection cleared, I began to have burning and stinging around my stoma (the opening in my abdomen where my small intestine “hangs out”). Since my digestive system now gets rid of waste before it goes through my colon, everything comes out in a semi-digested, watery state. The colon is what absorbs the majority of water and left-over nutrients, so when waste comes out of my stoma, there are still active digestive enzymes that can eat away the flesh on my abdomen. My body has adapted to this change, but when the oral antibiotics began to flush through, it aggravated my skin creating a 1/4″ of raw, open skin around my stoma. Needless to say it hurt quite a bit. It also made it difficult for my bag adhesive to stick, so while my infection was clearing, I now had a new issue at hand to deal with. On top of all of this, my right heel developed a crack in the skin as well.
All of this, because of something that is so “normal” for most people.
I tell you all of this in order to give you a glimpse into why I suddenly connected with this crippled man whose feet and ankles had failed him.
Out of empathy, I could imagine his excitement as he felt warm blood rush through his veins and strength surge into his feet that had felt “dead” for so long. But even more than that, I know the prolonged joy that would have come over him because not only did he experience healing, but he encountered the Healer himself.
Singer/Songwriter Natalie Grant had the lyrics to one of her songs in one of her Instagram posts. It said,
“Help me want the Healer more than the healing, Help me want the Savior more than the saving, Help me want the Giver more than the giving, Help me want You, Jesus, more than anything.”
Through this man’s story and because of the empathy I had toward him, God nudged me with a truth that I needed to be reminded of. God wants me to know Him and desire the healing of my soul more than the healing of my body. No, it’s not wrong to want physical healing, and I am so thankful that my feet are beginning to heal. But that can’t be my focus.
If you look back to the first few verses in this story it says, “When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, ‘Look at us!’. “
This crippled beggar noticed Peter and John come into the temple, but his gaze must have shifted from their faces downward to the earthly possessions he could get from them, because Peter tells him to look at them. I imagine that he was also looking down, ashamed of what he was. I think Peter wanted the man to look at him in order to see the power of the risen Christ that was living in him. He knew that ultimately that is what the man needed in order to be healed and to restore his dignity.
So often, I let my gaze shift downward and I forget that growing my relationship with Jesus is my ultimate goal.
If you continue reading Acts chapter 3 and into Chapter 4, you come to verse 4 that says,
“But many who heard the message believed and the number of men grew to about five thousand.” Acts 4:4
The “message” that this verse is referring to is the message of the gospel that Peter and John were able to then share with the people who “were astonished and came running to them…” as a result of witnessing the miraculous healing in this beggar’s life.
If this man had refused to shift his gaze upward to Peter and John, he may have encountered a small amount of money…maybe enough to buy a meal to temporarily satisfy his hunger…but he would have missed the opportunity to encounter the Holy Spirit who would reset the entire course of his life and in turn, touch five thousand more hearts that day.
I don’t want to miss an opportunity like that because I’m looking down.