Disclaimer: When I decided to begin a blog, I had a certain vision in my mind. I pictured light-hearted updates, funny little synopsis of our time abroad with a few more thoughtful posts inserted among the sprinkles. I just want to announce that I am giving up this vision. I am not a light-hearted writer. I now realize I lack the amount of humor needed for that kind of blog. I am only prompted to write when something strikes me deeply. So, if you’re reading this, I just want to be super straightforward that from now on there will be very little humor and probably way too much thought. However, I do live with two extremely funny children, a light-hearted husband and a super quirky canine. So, maybe a sprinkle or two will still be possible within my overly thoughtful posts!
Have you ever had a nagging thought that has popped in your head and just won’t leave you alone? You find yourself turning it over and over in your head? I’ve had one of those for a number of months now. I keep thinking about “compassion” and how authentic compassion is not conditional. Even more so, that conditional compassion might actually be called “judgment”.
In La Paz, there are many who live in extreme poverty. Their need is evident in their torn clothing, matted hair, outstretched hands. I hear story after story of individuals who lack simple things such as food, shelter and health care. And I am realizing how easy it is to assess whether or not someone deserves our compassion.
Maybe our thoughts are not quite so straightforward. Maybe we don’t sit and say to ourselves, “hmmm…I will have compassion on her, but not on him”. However, I think we (I) can fall easily into this pattern.
- We may decide if the poor deserve our compassion:
Did they end up where they are because of bad choices, or really sad circumstances?
Bad choices: no way will I help. Sad circumstances: Ok…they deserve a hand up.
- We may decide if the rich deserve our compassion:
They have everything they need, what do they need from me?
Or even worse, how can they serve my purposes?
- We may even decide if each other deserves compassion:
She is so grumpy today. Fine. I don’t need to talk to her anyway.
He was SO insensitive. He needs to learn a thing or two!
Of course, I am not talking about being blind to issues behind poverty, or ignoring the hurtful behavior of our friends. Our dear friend, Webster, defines compassion as “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it”.
A sympathetic consciousness. An awareness of the “why”. A desire to alleviate…a desire to help. I am convinced that what hinders our compassion most are our own personal judgments. We might look for the “why” behind behavior, but instead of using that as a springboard for helping, we use it as the deciding factor in how we personally feel about the behavior.
The compassion of Jesus is one of the characteristics that draws me to him the most. Jesus knew everything about everyone he met. He knew all of their bad choices, everything they could have done differently and yet he was full of compassion. Jesus did not withhold his compassion from the stressed, from the sinful, from the proud, the poor, the rich, even from those who directly mistreated him. I think this is because he really SAW people. He saw their brokenness despite the outside appearance. He saw the suffering of the richest pharisee as clearly as he saw the suffering of the impoverished widow. And because he saw each individual clearly, he knew what was needed to alleviate their suffering. The pain of hunger may have been relieved through food. The pain of pride might have been healed through direct teaching, or even rebuke.
We are ALL broken. For some reason, living in La Paz has made me so much more aware of this fact. I have to fight looking only at the outward appearance of others and really see the person. Brokenness can be obvious in rags and disease, or hiding under layers of highlights and perfect clothing. Brokenness can be in the tears of a homeless woman, or in the apathetic behavior of a store cashier. Most often, brokenness is the very thing that cultivates the behaviors we judge so harshly.
I really want to live in this kind of authentic compassion. It is difficult because my own feelings and judgments often cloud my ability to see others. Sometimes, I am so deep in my own world, I don’t even realize that I’m NOT seeing others. Maybe now that this nagging thought is finally out of my head and posted for the world to see, I’ll have a little more awareness, a little more understanding and much, MUCH more true compassion.
“Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.” Frederick Buechner