Adele Richards is an amateur parent of two exceedingly fabulous little girls. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away...
I saw that printed on a pregnant woman’s T-shirt: “I make people, what’s your superpower?” As life skills go, it’s pretty impressive.
If you could pick a superpower which one would you go for? Flying? Super strength? Being invisible? I’ve always fancied a spot of mind-reading myself, although I suspect it would be a) incredibly dull and b) quite horrifying, in equal measure.
Funnily enough, I do sometimes hear what people are thinking. Or more often, I feel a bit of what they are feeling. My super-tuned-in friend Melissa introduced me to this particular manifestation of the prophetic. And I’m so glad she did, because it’s one of those things that you don’t hear talked about all that much, and if you don’t know about it you might just think you’re going bonkers.
Maybe God speaks to me this way because I’m almost psychotically tuned into my feelings. Ask my husband how he feels at almost any moment of the day and he’ll look baffled, think about it, look more confused and then ask me to tell him. He’s more a man of action and cerebral planning.
Me? Ask me how I’m feeling at any second of any moment of any day and I can give you a thousand word essay on the exact colour, shade and hue of every conflicted emotion. Plus I can tell you how I feel about my feelings and how I feel about the fact that you just asked me how I feel about my feelings and how I feel about you asking and how you feel and how we all feel. Then we hug. Or you punch me, because you were just being polite and didn’t really want me to unravel my entire innards in front of you and then poke them with a stick for your viewing pleasure.
Anyway, feeling stuff for other people. Here’s how it works for me. I’ll be merrily going about my business and then suddenly a wave of a different emotion will wash over me. It’ll be intense and I’ll be aware, huh, that’s odd, that’s not how I felt a second ago.
I remember being in church in Toronto many years ago and being engrossed in worship, happily flag waving or wobbling or whatever I was doing at the time. And then this thought went through my mind so clearly: “ I can’t stand this any more” and a wave of desperation, despair and wanting to run away washed over me. It was so alien to how I’d been feeling just the second before that I looked around to see whose ‘stuff’ I was feeling. I think I spotted the guy, a few people away from me in the crowd, but I didn’t say anything. I just prayed like mad for him, and the feeling passed.
When I was a teenager, I used to daydream as I was cleaning the bathroom while listening to Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Hates Jazz and the Communards (irrelevant details but I thought you might enjoy a laugh at my musical taste). I would daydream up a machine, an invention that you could put in hospitals. It was for patients in intense pain. As a friend you could hook yourself up to their machine and for a few minutes, you could take their pain into yourself so they would get instant relief. You’d feel their pain instead of them. I thought it was a great idea.
I told my insightful friend Lynley that once and she laughed and said that it was such an intercessor’s idea. I’d never really thought about it that way, but I think she was onto something. I guess, sometimes intercession is a bit like that machine. I’m not sure the person’s pain goes away when I feel it, but I trust the prayers I pray out of compassion affect them positively somehow.
There are much cleverer folk than me who’ve written about this phenomenon in much more theological ways. The inner healing expert John Sandford has an excellent teaching on this called ‘Burden Bearing’. And Beni Johnson talks about how she used to feel other people’s feelings and hear their thoughts from a very young age in her mind-blowing book ‘The Happy Intercessor’.
But, in brief, this superpower is something to do with Galatians 6:2:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
“God’s superpower and super knowledge don’t make him less emotional, but more so.”
The Bible encourages to laugh with those who laugh and to weep with those who mourn. We’re encouraged to enter into each other’s emotions. But why? Jesus wept at Lazarus’s tomb even though he knew he was just about to bring Lazarus back from the dead. He wept for his dead friend and he wept for his grieving friends – he felt what they felt.
Compassion motivated Jesus to heal. He felt someone else’s pain – sometimes the pain of a whole crowd – and it moved him.
Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said, “Be clean!” (Mark 1:41)
When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14:14)
This is amazing. God’s superpower and super knowledge don’t make him less emotional, but more so. He isn’t afraid to feel what we feel. And he identified with us entirely by becoming human for 33 years (and is the Son of Man forever). More than that, he identified himself with our situation by becoming one with us on the Cross. On the cross, God sucked all our bad feelings, physical, emotional and mental pain and wickedness into his physical being. The weight of human misery pinned him to that cross. He bore our burdens and yet wasn’t disgusted by us. Like the truest alchemist, he turned vileness into love.
God is the great empath. He takes empathy to a level that would literally blow us up if we felt the full weight of it. But I think he gives us a taster, if we are open to it and if he can trust us. Because it’s a great privilege to share in someone’s pain. You’re given access to the innermost feelings of their heart, and that is something that God takes very seriously indeed. Our feelings are very precious to him, perhaps because the heart doesn’t lie.
If I’m ministering to someone and I suspect that I’m feeling just a little of what they are going through, I’ll tell them what I’m feeling. It comforts them that someone else knows what they’re going through, and that God cares enough to show me. I’m not a pain-relieving machine, but I am a conduit to one, or someone even better than that. Jesus is the ultimate burden bearer, not me. So I invite Jesus into the person’s feelings and I officially hand over the burden of pain to him on their behalf. It seems to help.
Are you invisible at the moment reading this over my shoulder as I write it? If so, stop tickling me behind the ear.
I don’t understand it; this ‘feeling other people’s feelings’ thing. It’s not pretty or glamorous or empowering. It can be odd and disturbing. But it helps me pray earnestly when I feel someone’s pain under my own skin. It engages me. It shifts a weight off a troubled soul and onto Jesus.
And as superpowers go, I think that’s pretty amazing.
This archived article was written by Adele Richards for release in Apr, 2012. Circumstances and situations may have changed regarding the author, locations and ministries. This content may therefore be outdated or misinformed.
Sign up to receive a periodical digest of some of the best content from this magazine.