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Connecting With Others in a Disconnected World

SYMPATHY VS EMPATHY
Tracy was raised in a Christian home and is a fifth-generation pastor. One day in 2007 while driving people to and from the airport for a church conference, she met Tennyson. They dated long distance for 8 months before Tennyson told Tracy he wanted to marry her.  (She worked in DC and he lived in Boulder, Colorado.) They talked about their tentative wedding over coffee in DC and settled on a date 7 months away in May 2008. Tracy dropped Tennyson off at the airport. “I drove away with the strangest feeling,” she says.  “Deep down I had a nagging and sick feeling that we were never going to get married.”  Four days later, her feelings became a reality.  Tennyson suddenly went missing in Boulder; text messages went unanswered and his phone went straight to voice mail.  “My worst fears were realized when his body was found in the Rocky Mountains a few days later,” she says.  “I was devastated.”  Tracy was left with a broken heart and many unanswered questions.  Days and weeks followed which brought uncontrollable outbursts of tears.  Her first panic attack occurred in a Barnes and Noble as she was looking for a book to help her cope.  Tracy felt isolated in her grief.  “I didn’t know how to open my Bible anymore,” she says.  “In that moment, I just wanted a book that told me how to stop hurting.” Tracy vowed when she got through her pain she would write a book to help people who are hurting not to feel so alone.

She moved through her grief and let the grief move through her.  “I embraced the process and its stages and allowed it to shape me into a person who hears and sees others more clearly.” In her research, Tracy discovered there is a similar difference between sympathy and empathy.  Sympathy means with feeling. Empathy means in feeling. In our self-absorbed culture, Tracy says it’s hard to show empathy because it takes a lot of energy.  “Training ourselves to think and feel what another person might be experiencing is possible,” she says.  “In fact, it’s the best way to be human.”  In order to connect with others, we first need to be active listeners.  “If we could all grasp this one concept – listening to understand – I think we could change the world,” says Tracy.  “At least we would change our marriage, families, friendships and work relationships.”

REGENT UNIVERSITY TO THE RESCUE
The first Sunday after Tennyson’s death was awkward for Tracy.  Everyone had heard about Tennyson’s death and had questions.  “I discovered that many people within the community of faith are uncomfortable with death and grief,” she says.  Instead of reaching out, Tracy says there’s an avoidance that actually adds to the pain and creates an awkwardness that neither person knows what to do with.  As weeks went by, Tracy found herself comforting others who came up to her sheepishly and didn’t know what to say.  To ease their discomfort, Tracy tried to convince them she was fine though for many sleepless nights she was still asking God, How long?

After Tennyson’s death, Tracy says she could quickly tell who else had suffered loss in their lives.  “They all showed empathy toward me,” she says.   She decided at that time to attend Regent University.  “I didn’t want to be angry at God,” she says.  “Maybe by chance, God will speak to me.”  Tracy says her experience at Regent rescued her.  “It gave me an outlet to see God in a new way,” she says.  During seminary, God sent Tracy on a journey.  “It’s not the path I thought I would be on, but He wanted me to go through this.”  During one of her last classes, the professor said to write down 5 goals.  Her number 1 goal: to write a book to help people through their grieving process.  “There’s a full circle as to how God takes our pain, heals our hearts and uses our pain to help other people,” she says.  “It takes energy to enter into someone else’s pain.  That’s where scripture and Jesus come in.”

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Guest Info

Guests
Credits

Author, Finding the Lost Art of Empathy, Howard/Simon&Schuster, 2017

Teaching Pastor, Capital Church, Boise, ID

Helped launch LA Bible Study in Hollywood

Led Bible study groups for congressional leaders, their families and staff members, Washington, DC

Master’s of Divinity, Practical Theology, Regent University

Cousin to Judah Smith (best-selling author and mega-church pastor of City Church, Seattle, WA)

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