Time Out – Space for Empathy

“Really she wants us to try doing a time out? Hadley is barely a year old!” I found myself saying these words to my spouse, Greg, as we got into the car after Hadley’s last doctor’s appointment.

“Just for one minute, especially if she’s not listening, doing something unsafe or mean.” Greg assures me.

“You know she hits me and laughs right? Are we going to put her in a time out to try and teach her that mommy has feelings too?”

“Maybe.” Greg helps load Hadley into her car seat as we drive home. And I wonder, maybe we all need a time out sometimes.

Rejoice with those who rejoice

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” ~ Romans 12:15 (ESV)

Teaching my young daughter about feelings and empathy is hard work. She’s nearly a year and a half old now, the sweetest toddler ever. Except for when she isn’t. Often she’ll run up and give me a hug if I ask or clap as I clap. We dance together to our fun music. The rejoicing with those who rejoice side of empathy mentioned in Romans 12 – she gets it.

Other people are smiling and laughing, she can too.

It’s the weep with those who weep that becomes problematic. When she hears me say “ow” because she decided that instead of kisses mommy needed her glasses ripped from her face, she laughs. When our beagle Hiccup warns her with soft growls that Hadley should not put her full weight on the aging doggy, Hadley squeals with joy. And when I am sobbing because someone on Grey’s Anatomy told someone else they love each other – Hadley could care less.

She’s a toddler. It’s mostly to be expected.

But in some ways, we learn how to empathize, by caring for others, by watching others, and by being taught. And so I keep wondering about how a time out could possibly help our little one learn to care for others as well.

Creating space

For us, putting our tiny little toddler in “time out” really means that she sits in a chair. For a minute. With one of us gently sitting next to her. Sometimes she’ll try to get out of the chair early and we shake our head. “Remember, we don’t hit others, it hurts them.” She’ll tear up a bit, but generally she sits and waits, and shares hugs after the minute is done.

Not bad for a toddler.

But as I said, I wonder if this “time out”, if this space being created, is something that we could all use in better caring for others. A phrase I hear often in ministry and working with those in need in our community is “compassion fatigue“. Now this is not something that my daughter is experiencing, she’d need to have some compassion first.

But we can get weighed down by all the needs around us, by all the weeping. We may even be feeling tired of the rejoicing of others, especially if we don’t feel very joyful. Empathy can be difficult.

Maybe what we need is a time out. A space to sit, to be, to remember the presence of God in and around us, so that we can share hugs and move on to sharing that care and empathy with others.

I mean if a toddler can do it, why can’t we?

What are some ways you create space for yourself to rest? What kind of “time out” might be helpful for you to better relate to someone else?

Pastor Megan


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