Today marks the 21-year anniversary of Michael Jordan's "Flu Game." For those who don’t know, Jordan was in The Finals against the Jazz. The series was tied 2-2. In a pivotal Game 5, Jordan was sick with flu-like symptoms- fever, dehyrdated, no energy. He pushed through that and played anyways, and his performance in the 4th quarter helped the Bulls seal the win. They ended up winning the series. He was so toast by the end of the game that Scottie Pippen had to help carry him off the court.
Now, when I think about the Flu Game, the first thought that comes to mind is- "MJ, if you really had the flu, why are you getting within 20 yards of the rest of your team? If your teammates all get the flu, no way do you win the championship!"
Jordan was known for how competitive he is at EVERYTHING. He reportedly punched teammates in practice on multiple occasions. (Will Perdue, Steve Kerr, etc.) Regarding the Flu game, Jordan said,
”I almost played myself into passing out just to win a basketball game.”
Jordan epitomizes the word PASSION. We get the word Passion from the Greek word “pathos.” The word literally means “suffering.” Jordan was willing to endure the suffering of playing through illness because he wanted to win that bad.
Now Jordan was really passionate about something rather trivial in the grand scheme of things. But some things are worth getting passionate about. Some things are worthy of our suffering.
Jesus said, "Blessed are those who suffer for righteousness' sake." Peter said, "You are blessed when you suffer for what is right." James said, "Blessed is the one who endures hardship because they will find life." Some things are worth the pain.
The "Passion" of the Christ means the suffering of the Christ. Jesus was willing to endure the cross because he knew who he was suffering for.
If you are truly passionate about something, you were are willing to suffer for it. Many of us might say we are passionate about things- politics, our faith, sports teams, whatever. The proof of it really comes when we have to suffer for it.
Jordan was passionate about basketball. What are you passionate about? What relationships, injustices, and dreams are you willing to suffer for?
We get a few other words from pathos too- apathy, sympathy, empathy. These are all connected to passion and how we show up to our lives. Let's look at this idea of passion and "pathy" in the context of relationships.
APATHY- "A" (NO) "PATHY" (SUFFERING)
When we feel apathetic towards something, it means we are not willing to suffer for it. Sometimes that can simply because it's not something we care about. But apathy could also be a disguise for fear. It might be easier to not care than risk failing or being disappointed. It's easier to be apathetic than to admit we might be inadequate for the task at hand.
We might also be apathetic because we are overwhelmed or exhausted. In a world where we have instant access to global suffering, it feels impossible to have feel feelings about everything.
Apathy is also a luxury of privilege. I'm a white, heterosexual male. It can be easy for me to be apathetic to the suffering of people different than me because I'm not personally experiencing it. While that might be a luxury of privilege, it is not a luxury for a follower of Jesus.
"Remember those in prison as if you were bound with them, and those who are mistreated as if you were suffering with them." (Hebrews 13:3)
"Weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15)
SYMPATHY- "SYM" (WITH) "PATHY" (SUFFERING)
While sympathy is obviously a step up from apathy, it still has its limitations. If apathy is, "I am not willing to suffer for this," sympathy is, "Oh boy that looks painful." It's a way of saying, "I feel sorry for you." "There, there." Or the Southern version, "Bless your heart."
Sympathy often creates a disconnect in the relationship. This is on purpose, because we want to keep another person's pain at an arm's distance from us. We might compare their pain with our own, bringing the focus away from them and on to ourselves. (An area we can control.)
Or perhaps we are completely dismissive. "You think THAT's bad, but at least it's not ______."
I remember a few years back when Ashley shared something really personal. It made me feel uncomfortable, and rather than ask questions and be curious, I shared how what she was sharing made me feel. I hijacked the conversation. It did not go well.
Sympathy, while often well-intended, can still be detrimental.
EMPATHY- "EM" (IN) "PATHY" (SUFFERING)
If apathy is "I'm not willing to feel anything," and sympathy is "I can relate to your pain because I've had similar pain", empathy is "I am feeling your pain." It is to be fully present, curious, and kind in another person's pain. To see things from their perspective. To put yourself in their shoes.
Even if you don't fully understand or fully agree, you are tossing that to the side for the moment to really listen and connect. It requires humility (considering others more important than yourself) and curiosity (not assuming you know everything or are always right.)
Brene Brown does a great job of explaining the differences between empathy and sympathy. Theresa Wiseman gave four qualities for empathy. 1) The ability to take on the perspective of another. 2) Staying out of judgment. 3) Recognizing emotions in others. 4) Communicating that emotion.
Empathy should be the ultimate goal in relationships because it helps fuel intimacy, growth, and fulfillment.
Are you passionate about the right things? Are you willing to consider other people's perspectives and pain even when it isn't your own story, because that's what it looks like to love?
What's an area of your life where you currently have apathy? (But it bugs you that you do) Who is someone that could use a little more empathy for you? In what area? What's something in your life that you wish someone had empathy towards?