A few years ago, I suggested to my family that we choose one of the attributes of Christ and use that as a starting point for our personal study. These attributes, I felt, would help us understand ourselves better as we sought to be better children, parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors. Some of the attributes we each considered were faith, hope, charity & love, obedience, patience, humility, and compassion.
Knowing that we should never pray for patience lest we be given cause to practice said patience, I chose compassion. I have always been aware that compassion does not come naturally to me, quite frankly and ashamedly I admit that I’m guilty of being the extreme antithesis of compassionate. I am a ‘suck it up’ and ‘put on your big girl panties’ type of gal, so I truly hoped for a paradigm shift in my heart and actions. I took this as an opportunity to put to test the philosophy that out of our greatest weaknesses we can be made strong, and desired to be a better person in this regard.
For the first few months, we checked in on each other during family councils and Sunday dinners and learned from each other. As is often the case in our home with activities such as this, we were consistent for awhile and then we fizzled out. In my own personal study, I felt that I’d learned a lot and I had definitely tried to offer more kindness and love when I heard of someone in need. I found that my heart was a little more in tune with the needs of those around me, allowing me to serve in a way I had not done before. As time wore on and distractions surfaced, the prayer and resolve to be more compassionate in my daily actions got put on the back burner of my daily attention.
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to serve alongside ten beautiful women at a church youth girls camp. We were from different congregations and none of us knew each other before we were asked to spend the week preparing and serving meals for 250+ girls. We woke early and retired late, so we spent a lot of time chatting as we cut, sliced, mixed, and prepared. I was DREADING this assignment, as I anticipated more drama and judgement than friendship and love. My life had been a series of one mess after another for several months and I wasn’t sure I could go and put my best foot forward for a full week.
Upon first glance, we appeared to be 11 women who enjoyed peaceful, wonderful lives; women who had their lives and ducks all in a row. At the time, my heart felt a little like a Harry Potter dementor was sucking the life out of me, breath by breath and these women looked more like they might burst into a rendition of ‘A Spoonful of Sugar”. But, oh how appearances can be deceiving.
As we cut and sliced, and chopped and baked, we slowly started asking questions about each other and our families. Initially, it was ‘on the surface’ details; the cleaned up living room that guests are allowed in, but definitely not the messy teenagers bedroom with clothes strewn from corner to corner. As time went on, small little details would arise about a struggling child or a suffering spouse. One woman would share and a few would offer insight from their own struggles. One night, as we sat in the empty and unusually quiet dining hall, the more intimate stories of hurts and personal wounds seemed to roll out of our mouths. Situations that had previously left many of us feeling isolated, now seemed to unite us in this great and giant force of strength and wisdom. These were deep, life altering trials- the stuff that moms nightmares are made of and seem to bring Hell into our daily lives. We talked for hours, not in a ‘woe is me’ type of talk, but in an ‘I hear, you, I see you, and I feel you’ type of talk.
There is no way to truly quantify what I personally gained from that evening. What I can explain is the testimony that I received that, with God, I believe there are no mistakes and no accidents when we need His touch most. Because He knows us, and knows us well, we are never alone; never, Never, NEVER! He walks with us, He knows what we need and He’ll find a way to give it to us.
The next day a few of us stayed back after our morning meal and the conversation resumed. I expressed my sincere belief that this world is changing; the lines between good and evil are becoming thin and temptations surround our kiddos at every angle. I believe our youth are being put to the test in ways we have never seen before. They are being asked to know who they are and what they believe. Their confidence is being depleted by the supposed perfection they see on social media at the exact same time that they need the courage to stand tall and stand strong! In my opinion, they are being prepared for the battlefields. They face more in their lives before they graduate from high school than we could have ever imagined when we were their ages.
After much emotion and tears, one gal asked a BIG question, and spit out what we had ALL spent HOURS on our knees pondering and praying about… “So, if we know what our kids are supposed to be learning, we know our children are being asked to find Their truth and THEIR testimony! BUT what about us? What are WE supposed to be learning?”
Though I’d been thinking about it, without much success, constantly for three months, the answer came clearly in that moment… “We are learning compassion! Pure and simple, Christ-like compassion”. I felt the weight of all the tears and fears of several years, culminated in the last few months, drop off my shoulders in that instant.
It has been several months since that afternoon and that beautiful experience. I learned more than I can possibly express through words, but I pray daily that what I learned with that group of strong and struggling women will shine forth through my actions towards myself and others. I felt a safety net of love and acceptance within that small group of women that I haven’t felt for a really long time.
A few weeks later, with the addition of a few more challenges, I’d almost forgotten how inspired and strengthened I had become with these women at my side. I had returned to feeling completely depleted emotionally, physically, and spiritually. At this time and in Texas’ 100 degree heat, both of our air conditioning units failed and the oven quit working in the home we’d owned for less than one week. I’d had surgery two days after we moved in and couldn’t carry or lift anything, including my arms.
In complete foolishness, we had also started a kitchen renovation, which basically left my life a huge destruction zone, inside and out.
I kept teasing that the chaos of the house was a direct representation of the chaos in our lives. I joked that our house was an outward appearance of how I felt inside and hoped that as I slowly put the house in order, our lives would slip back into their “normal” pace and peace as well. I say “joked” but with full intensity, I prayed for it to be true.
I went to church, and the most well-intentioned friend said something like, ‘do you feel like the previous homeowner completely swindled you’? My husband heard a similar comment when someone suggested to him that maybe we’d just bought into the money pit. First, you must know that my logical mind knows that neither comment, nor any others, were directed as cold, callous, or judgmental remarks. Second, you must know, I had no logical mind left. Needless to say, and without fully disclosing my weakest side, I went home and threw a bit of a tantrum. Maybe more than a “bit of a” tantrum.
Sometimes, when I throw a tantrum, my poor husband runs for the nearest treat shop in an attempt to distract the monster. And sometimes, he sits down for a front row seat to the show. Today, he bought a ticket and nestled in for the previews and the full length film. To my surprise, The tantrum was short lived as my mind quickly went back to that night at camp. I asked myself why these comments at church had made me so angry when the camp gals had pushed their thoughts and comments into much deeper pains. Again, the answer came rushing into my ears, “Because of the Christ-like attribute of COMPASSION”!
What is this word, what does it mean, and how does it differ from its sister words, empathy and sympathy?
Sympathy is an awareness of someone’s needs, struggles or pains-
“I am sorry you are struggling right now”
Empathy is the ability to understand or ‘feel’ another person’s emotional state
“It looks like you’ve had a bad day, maybe you need a treat!”
Compassion goes a little further with a desire to alleviate or minimize another person’s pains or struggles, showing up at the door, with a cupcake, two forks, and a smile. Compassion pulls up a chair and holds a hand! Compassion doesn’t say “call me”, compassion shows up and says “I’m here”!
Compassion feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and heals the sick!
Compassion shows up with ice cream and cookies and stays to share a shoulder to cry on…
Compassion feeds the hungry, clothes the naked and heals the sick!