Pools of Hope and Empathy

With summer just about here, my thoughts wander to warm beaches and sunshine, as soon we will be headed to the shoreline.  My family is fortunate enough to own a beach house, and as a kickoff to summer, we head there first before we rent it out for the other weeks of the summer.  During that time, we love to check out all of the new restaurants and events that are happening, as they tend to change summer to summer.  There is tremendous excitement in our discoveries, and we always make sure to take flyers, advertisements, and anything else we can get our hands on, to remind us of the great times we had.  Additionally, we also leave extras at the house for the next renter, so that when they show up, there is an abundance of menus, coupons, event calendars, and the occasional free mini-golf card, giving them a good head start on the week.  Our hope is that they will then in turn leave items for the next person coming, and so on throughout the summer, establishing a type of pay-it-forward mentality.  In most activities in life, our family tries to take that same approach, leaving something good for the next person, as we know how appreciative we are when we find something considerably left for us.  This approach got me thinking: is there a similar model for how can we provide solace for those who will go through similar suffering in the future?  Can we reach out to those not yet in need but who will be in need as a result of suffering?  Psalm 84 writes about a group of pilgrims who are traveling to the promised land, a place of wonderful communion with God where they will fully feel his presence but first need to travel through a desert.  During that time, they experience great hardships, suffering and thirst, a metaphor for the struggles we endure on the way to great achievements.  During that time in the desert, the pilgrims know that others will be traveling through that area after them, so instead of just worrying about themselves, they provide for the next travelers: “As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools” (84.6).  Instead of just making sure they survive this treacherous desert themselves, they dig holes and render them (seal up the sides) so that when it rains, the holes will fill up and provide for the next person.  The concept behind empathy, and what separates it from sympathy, is that you are not just feeling bad for another person, but that you understand what they are going through because you went through it, too.  These rendered pools display that empathy in that those pilgrims know how hard it is to travel through the desert without enough water, so they will provide for those after them.  This past year, as I went through a difficult work situation, another teacher unexpectedly approached me and told me about her similar situation from years ago, explaining how she made it through.  Although there are sometimes no words that one can express when another is suffering, just knowing that someone else went through it and made it to a place of resolution or healing is encouragement enough.  It provides hope.  The future benefits of hardship and struggle are that we can reach out to those presently experiencing them, sharing how we too struggled and made it through.  So, empathize and reach out to another person who is struggling with a situation that you know all too well.  Your connecting with them and sharing is the rendered pool of hope that can help them through their seemingly endless desert of struggle.  Amen.

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