One of the things I cherish most about my childhood is the number of stories and storytellers that filled my world. I heard stories from my parents and family members about where our family came from and the experiences we shared that made us who we were. I heard stories at church about people whose adventures are told in the Bible.  I heard stories from my teachers at school about the heroes of our history and the discoveries of scientists and inventors and explorers.  I was also pretty young when I began to learn the stories of sports figures and athletes. Stories surrounded me and filled my life.

But the best stories were the ones I shared with my friends—the stories we told each other about what was going on in our lives and about things we were doing, or things that we wished we could do or wished were ours. I realize now that it was through stories that I came to understand what was happening in the world around me and how I fit in.

Stories continue to matter a great deal in our adult lives and in our work, because it is through listening to each other that we develop the empathy that leads to understanding. In fact, it is our capacity to empathize with those we serve that allows us to provide the healthcare that has the best outcomes for our patients.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Empathy builds trust. It opens up the connections needed for clarity and confidence in the care that we provide. Creating healing connections requires time and energy, and there is no better place to start than with an empathetic ear, an open heart and mind, and a willingness to listen to someone else’s story.

It may even be the case that when empathy is missing, true healing isn’t possible, and the outcomes we seek will always be just out of reach. When the importance of empathy is misunderstood or limited, we will have only limited success in our mission to extend God’s care through the ministry of physical, mental, and spiritual healing.

At the heart of every great relationship there is a story. We are at our best when we listen—both to those with whom we work and especially to the individuals who have come to us for care. Empathy—as demonstrated by how we listen and respond—is key to the fulfillment of our mission and our calling.