Practice Empathy Along the Way

By Michaela O’Donnell

November 16, 2021

Make Work Matter

Scripture—Luke 10:33 (MSG)

A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him.


Much of the meaningful work we desire to do can be traced back to empathy. How might God be inviting you to practice empathy along the way in this season of work?

This is part three of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. The first two devotions were about naming what you’re wrestling with in this season of work and making space to feel whatever feelings come with this season—both part of making meaning in our changing world. Today’s devotion is about letting whatever is going on inside of you, be a catalyst that helps you empathize with others.


I am convinced that our very best and most meaningful work can almost always be traced back to empathy. This is certainly true when it comes to product development and breakthrough inventions. But it’s also true in our more ordinary, daily work as humans: the way we give feedback to one another, how we treat those on our delivery routes, the technical systems we build together.

What we work on, how we work on, and how we pay attention to each other in our work—they all shape us. In other words, our doing shapes our being. And then our being shapes our doing.

In our age of change and noise, this kind of daily empathy might feel a bit counterintuitive.  When the narrative that we are in our own solo ship casts us as the heroes (or potentially failures) in our individual pursuits of success, we can end up making decisions about how to spend our time on a rubric rooted in self-centeredness, preoccupation, and overstimulation.

Empathy often interrupts. That’s what happens in this story of the Good Samaritan. A man is lying hurt on the side of the road. Others are passing him by. But the Samaritan—who was presumably en route from some sort of point a to point b—lets the needs of this stranger interrupt him. He moves toward the man in need. He practices empathy along the way of where he was already going. His empathy leads to a series of decisions about using his resources—his oil, donkey, time, money—in pursuit of joining this man in his moment of need.

Consider those you are already traveling alongside in your work—the people you engage on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis as part of what you do (paid or unpaid). Consider what it might look like if you opened yourself up to consider them as you look for opportunities to practice empathy along the way.


Are you interruptible?

How might practicing empathy along the way reorient aspects of your work?


Make a list of the people you regularly engage in your work. Spend some time praying over the list, asking God to help you attune to specific people through the practice of empathy.


Thank you that you are a God who cares for us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Help me to root my move toward others in the reality that you first move toward me in grace. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Good Samaritan at Work—Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself (Luke 10:25-37)

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Michaela O’Donnell

Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director

Michaela is the Mary and Dale Andringa Executive Director Chair at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership. She is also an assistant professor of marketplace leadership and the lead professor for Fuller Seminary’s Doctor of Global Leadership, Redemptive Imagination in the Marketplace progr...

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