For many months I’ve been wanting to try meditation or contemplative prayer as a way to spend time with God. However, as this has never been a regular practice of mine I didn’t know how to go about it. Instead of going out and researching how to pray in this way, I decided to simply curl up in my favorite chair and sit with God. In my imagination I pictured us on a porch swing of a cabin looking out toward a beautiful mountain lake. I started including a short reading to focus on and then let our time together go wherever it will. As our relationship has always included a physical aspect, it didn’t take God long to circle arms around me and hold me close.
Out of this assuredness of God loving me, of having created me and of always being there, I have found the freedom to explore who I am and to start learning to use the gifts within me to help and support others. Exploring these gifts, however, hasn’t been an easy path. Until I found out what some of these gifts were, there were parts of me I hid away from the world in fear of being vulnerable and getting hurt. But there came a day when I was reading on Facebook a friend’s post titled, ”30 Traits of an Empath.” Of the 30 seemingly random traits, 27 described alarmingly well those parts of me I had hidden away. I was intrigued, began research into these traits and what they mean for me. I knew I was walking in a territory outside of traditional orthodoxy. Could God give someone a gift that is outside the bounds of acceptability?
The best way I can describe being an empath is this: when an empath sees someone eat a food, let’s say pumpkin pie, rather than remembering what pumpkin pie tastes like, they will actually have the sensation of a pumpkin pie in his or her own mouth, though someone else is eating it. Empaths pick up on the emotions of others, whether the people are visibly or verbally expressing them or not, and feel that emotion as their own. Often without realizing what’s going on, I can be upset and for no apparent reason. Understanding this gift of being empathic has helped me identify from where those emotions are coming. Since learning of this gift, I’ve been paying more attention to which emotions are mine and which I’m picking up from my environment so I can let them go.
For some empaths, it also works the other way around. In addition to picking up on other people’s emotions, they also send them out. The truth of this I personally experienced one night in a meeting when I was angry and my friend next to me became quite argumentative over a small matter that she normally would have let pass. Fortunately, we were able to talk about the experience later, made easier by her own previous knowledge of where the emotion was coming from, and I learned what damage can be done if I don’t learn to treasure and train this gift.
Half a year after my discovery, I am learning how to tell which emotions are those of others and which are my own so I know for what I’m responsible. It does make things interesting at times to be near someone and sense a much deeper current of emotion than what they’re showing and yet not ask about it. I have also come to a peace about being empathic. If God gave this gift to me, then God also meant for me to use it, to find a way to train me in this work. This journey of my soul has taught me that there is far more to the world than we see with our eyes and understanding and that we are free to journey there.
The more I learn and explore this gift through the Divine light, the more mystery I find in who I am and who God is. The rules with which I grew up fall away one after another to the place where all that is left is this most mysterious Being teaching me in equally mysterious ways. Through this, I have learned to trust and to love God more deeply. Now in the mornings I follow my instincts and longings to curl up beside God on that swing near the lake. Though empath is the label I put to this gift, it is also a part of a larger tapestry God is weaving. Right now, I do not understand the pattern or even my part in it, but I trust the weaver and that is enough.
It’s because of those times spent with God, centering down into God’s presence, feeling Love embrace me, that I’m able to sit with others in their time of need. Being able to discern the emotions of the people around me enables me to speak to their deeper condition. It lets me see beyond face value and into their need — not to take away their pain, but to be present with them in it and simply love them and to send out peace and grace. Perhaps this way of love, though still new to me, is my own reflection of God’s love into the lives of those around me. It is my way of hearing the heart of God wherever I go and sing to its rhythm. This gift, first given me, is the one I give to the world.
Sarah Katreen Hoggatt has authored several books, including the recently released, In the Wild Places. A freelance writer, international speaker, editor and spiritual director with a passion for ministering to fellow souls, she holds a Master’s degree from George Fox Evangelical Seminary. Sarah lives in Salem, Oregon and is a member of Riversway Friends Church of Northwest Yearly Meeting.