This weekend, I watched the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast with our children. They have seen the animated version many times, but the differences in storyline in the live version made them feel like they were seeing the story for the first time, no longer trusting the outcome to be the same. As we watched the film, we were spread across the living room in our favorite watching spots. At the point where the beast releases Belle to go help her father, the Beast sings a sad song not found in the animated version. In the midst of the song, my younger daughter jumped up from her seat, her eyes overflowing with tears and ran to jump in my lap.
I was surprised by her strong reaction to the scene, and quickly began to comfort her and ask what was upsetting her so much. She was devastated Belle might not come back and was weeping for the beast. We whispered quietly and I tried to reassure her so she could keep watching. Meanwhile, my older daughter was completely confused by her sister’s reaction. Perhaps she felt her sister should remember the ending, or maybe she just thought crying over a movie was silly (as she has told me so many a time as I have wiped my own tears at various movies).
Later that night, I talked with my younger daughter about the movie and her reaction. She said she was glad she had not seen the movie at school because she wouldn’t want her friends to see her cry. As we talked about her fear, she recalled that I had once told her it was okay to cry when something is really sad.
I have been thinking since that night how we teach our children and what lessons adult internalize about emotions. I am not suggesting we need to walk around crying all the time, but I do think we have internalized some messaging about how crying connotes weakness instead of a deep sense of empathy. And the good Lord know we need a lot more empathy these days – for our friends, for our enemies, for strangers.
As I think about Jesus’ ministry, one of the things he always showed was a sense of empathy without boundaries: for women and the powerless, for the sick and ostracized, for those who are slow to understand, for those who follow rules but forget grace, for those who have let fear and anger harden their hearts. This week, I invite you to consider where you have lost touch with empathy. If you need some prodding, I suspect just reading or listening to the news will give you ample opportunity for occasions for empathy. But I imagine you already know where you have separated yourself from empathy. It will not be easy work, and others might look at you askance when you show empathy. But I suspect the more you work on empathy, the more you might receive it in return.