7 lessons from one word: Compassion


“I told her to do something unexpected: go where there is pain. ‘If you want to discover your purpose,’ I explained, “then you need to hang out in places where there is brokenness.’ ”
– Jeff Goins, Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life

This time last year, I had a word picked out for One Word: 2014. And it wasn’t Compassion.

But by the end of December 2013, God handed me another word that he would use over and over throughout 2014 to teach me lessons, show me grace, and prove his reality: Compassion.

Here are 7 lessons I learned (and relearned) about compassion this year.


Don’t see projects; see people.

When Linda commented, “Nobody likes to be someone else’s project,” Andrew replied that was perfect.

Andrew is battling a hard physical illness. So listen when he says, “I wish caregivers would understand this. Sometimes their self-identification and sense of generating positive karma completely overshadows the fact that the person for whom they are caring is still a human being.
It becomes the caregiver’s story. Not invalid, but also not appropriate.”

Compassion isn’t a superior helping an inferior. Compassion is one human relating to another through an avenue of love.


Some will say you’ve gone too far. But maybe you know you’ve not gone far enough.

I’ve learned to speak up more on some things, but at other times to be quieter. I’m still working this out, mainly learning the hard way each time (sorry, friends and family).

I still need to understand more myself—through listening, through talking, through experiencing, through reading.


When I visited with families inside the hovels they called homes outside the garbage dump in Guatemala, my heart hurt. When I saw bruises on the teen girl’s arm now living in the group home, it felt too heavy. When I listened second-hand to the ugly comments that my gay friend heard first-hand, I just wanted it all to stop.

I needed to be reminded of these truths from Jeff Goins in Wrecked (one of my favorite books I read in 2013):

“So often we want to move quickly past these moments. We want resolution; we want to justify ourselves. But these are the experiences we need. Our brokenheartedness at the injustices we witness is what gives us compassion. So when we rush past these messy and uncomfortable moments, we take away the experiences that teach us mercy.
– Jeff Goins


Compassion doesn’t always use words.

Sometimes compassion is dressing down among lower-income friends so they don’t feel awkward. Sometimes it’s making eye contact to say, “I notice you.” Sometimes it’s wearing all black to church for “Black Lives Matter Sunday.”

Sometimes compassion is a quiet change of heart on the inside, to be lived out loud later on the outside.


Once you start looking deeper at others’ needs, the more you’ll discover. And the more you discover, the more inadequate you feel to make a difference.

I feel I’m not doing enough for some homeless friends of mine. Their needs outstrip my resources in every way. So I do a little, then walk away; return to do a little more, than walk away again.

I remind myself of this from Wrecked, “Everything you do matters. So do something. Anything. Just move.

I haven’t moved far. I don’t move fast. But I refuse to stand still.


Compassion is about starting over. And over. And over again.

Nobody has this down pat. Every day presents fresh opportunities to better learn how to love others. If I’ve learned anything this year, it’s how deep and wide this thing can run. So I’ve watched Fran and Alene and others who do compassion well and often, so I can learn some more.

More from Jeff Goins:

“The world is broken and remains that way, in spite of our efforts to help it. This is beautiful, in a way, because it breaks us of our self-dependency. In a world that refuses to be healed, we must face the fact that we are not the heroes of our stories. It teaches us to rely on something bigger than ourselves and teaches the source of true compassion.”

Which leads to the greatest lesson on compassion . . .


Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

I’ve said that over and over this year when I’ve found myself in over my head. Or when I’ve been too scared to go further. Or when the needs of others seem overwhelming.

And he does. The Lord has mercy. He specializes in it. For me. For you. For everyone here among us.

God is the source of compassion, the example of compassion, the extender of compassion.

If I want to keep learning about compassion, I’ll stay alert to God having compassion on me.

* * *

Which lesson about compassion resonates most with you?
Did you have “one word” for 2014? For 2015?
Please share.


29 thoughts on “7 lessons from one word: Compassion

  1. Natalie

    No one word last year. Maybe this year.

    Number 3: I’ve been thinking a lot about that recently. I have some friends who are adopting a child. Their motivation is that they can’t help all the children but they can make a difference for just one. After years working in social services–in the mental health system and with individuals with developmental delays–when I see the great need of people on the street and in the store and everywhere I go I feel guilty for what I can’t do. The overwhelming need and inability to fix it all has kept me from figuring out what I can do and doing it.

    Thanks for more thoughts to encourage me to move forward on that part of my journey. Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I really need to make better peace with # 3 myself. I know God doesn’t want me to go around with guilt over all the things I can’t do. Like you mention, it can paralyze me at times to do nothing.

      Your friends are right: we can’t help all, but we can help one. I narrow that down to even one day at a time. If I just can do the thing God places in front of me now, that’s enough. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Natalie.

  2. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

    Great post, and I am honored to have been quoted! That made my morning.

    What resonates with me is a putative No, 8, and that is to have compassion for myself, to make the compassion I can extend more effective. The best analogy I can think of is a lake; if there is no water coming out, the streams it feeds will soon dry up.

    Functionally, this means that I allow myself those small mercies that give me joy, just as I would allow them – nay, command them – for someone who would be doing compassionate work under my direction.

    It’s not about preventing ‘burnout’; I don’t believe in that concept, and feel that it is often used to excuse a sort of selfish laziness, for Compassion Hobbyists. It’s simply about refreshment, and recovery (like muscle recovery after exercise, if you’d like another analogy).

    My word for 2015 is a phrase within a word, so perhaps it;s cheating. It’;s “hirihokenten’, which is the Japanese transliteration of a Chinese maxim – “it is important to consider debt, but unimportant to consider death’.

    Hirihokenten was the motto of Kusunoki Masashige, who met his end (by his own hand) after the Battle of the Minato River (Minatogawa). He’s been a hero in Japan for centuries, for devotion to duty and the practice of loyal responsibility.

    His wife is also famous, for a particularly touching turn of phrase. When her husband left for what they both knew would be the last time, she wrote that she wished that time were s spool of thread, so that it could be unrolled and the past could become the present.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m often challenged by the perceptive insights you share, Andrew, and that comment from the other day was no exception! It kept coming back up in my head so I had to return to it here. You have a unique perspective on life based on your past experiences and your current one, so I like to pay close attention to what you share.

      I can see how # 8 would be a challenge to someone like you who is used to being the one out there in charge, not wanting to sit back and take a break. But you’re wise enough to know that the lake analogy is valid. Recovery is the concept I like to use too. It provides balance for me.

      Your phrase has a lot of depth to it…much to think about in that. I’ll also be thinking about the spool of thread….

  3. Etta

    Hi Lisa-
    I think the one-word is a great idea, but I struggle coming up with the word for me. At first I wanted the word to be “delight”. The more I thought about “delight” and all it involves, it’s too easy. I can find the positive in most everything. So I think I will push myself with the 2015 challenge of the word “Second”. In putting myself second, others before me. More of Him, less of me. Their needs before mine. Sometime ago I saw billboards with the statement “I am second” and I really like the thought of that.
    Thank you for all your words of encouragement!
    Merry Christmas!

    1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser

      “I am second” is interesting. It harks back to the title of Gale Sayers’ autobiography, “I Am Third”.

      You may recall that Sayers was the teammate, friend, and roommate of the football player Brian Piccolo, whose fight against cancer was immortalized in the film “Brian’s Song”.

      1. LisaNotes Post author

        Well, sounds like another book I need to add to my to-read list. Thanks a lot, Andrew. ha. I’ve heard of Gale Sayers through the movie, but didn’t know about the autobiography.

    2. LisaNotes Post author

      Funny you mention struggling with the word Delight: I was going to use that one year too but I was never satisfied with it by itself so I turned it into a multiple-word year of Depend and Delight. 🙂

      “Second” will be an awesome word to use for 2015. Have you ever read the book or watched the videos of “I Am Second”? They are great motivators! I’ll look forward to how Second works out in your life. Merry Christmas to you too, Etta!

  4. Linda@Creekside

    I’m with Andrew. Thanks for bringing that earlier conversation to the table.

    This discussion is rich, deep, and oh so wise. I’ll be back when I have a bit more time, just to sit and soak up the truths you have shared.

  5. Mary Dolan Flaherty

    Terrific post, Lisa. Makes me think more about my reply to you on my post…about tolerance. Anyway…first, I know you probably don’t want me to be, but I am impressed! You do so much for the less fortunate. But I won’t feel guilty that I don’t! But one of the things I noticed this past month was that God has put people in my path who I can encourage and “help” (and that’s been a prayer of mine, since I’m an encourager), but it’s not what I expected. They’ve been difficult, unwilling to take my advice, unwilling to “play by the rules” and very needy. They have been “projects” and I didn’t do very well. I really didn’t even want to be around them. However, rather than looking at it as a failure, I can look at it as a learning experience (and maybe be more specific with God, since He seems to have a sense of humor…sigh).

    I never really got a specific word for the year, but it occurred to me that “rest” and “simplify” was it. This past year has been about saying no to a lot of things, and attempting to simplify my life by saying no. I’m not sure what 2015 is going to be like. I haven’t really thought or prayed about it…I was never big on New Year’s resolutions, so I don’t typically pray that way…but perhaps it’s time for a change…great post. Thanks for all that valuable insight.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, I don’t want you to be impressed with me because I don’t do near as much as I could for the less fortunate. It’s definitely a learning curve for me, so don’t be too hard on yourself. The turning points for me have usually been when I’ve developed relationships with those I’m trying to “help” and I discover they’re helping me as much if not more than I am helping them, just in different ways. I’ve discovered the past couple of years that I need the poor as much as they might need me. We’re all learning from each other and guiding each other along on our journeys.

      I admire you for simplifying your life this year. It’s easier said than done for me. When we transitioned between denominations a couple years back, I told myself to say no to adding on new responsibilities for awhile, and it was such a blessing to be able to watch and learn instead of feeling like I needed to immediately jump in and commit. Thanks for sharing here!

  6. Joe Pote

    You’ve plunged deep on this one, Lisa! So much depth to this concept of compassion!

    This phrase especially caught my eye: “Compassion is one human relating to another through an avenue of love.”

    I think it’s the ‘relating to’…that is both the essence and the difficulty of compassion…

    Thanks for sharing, my friend!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Good catch, Joe–relating is often both the easy and the hard part of compassion! No wonder I struggle with it at times. It brings me great joy but also can bring me great pain as well.

  7. Sharon

    Such a full and in-depth post, Lisa. It’s hard for me to pick one thing to focus on. But when I looked at #7, I suppose that’s the one that prompted some deep thinking. I thought about the work that I do caring for my mother. Your thoughts, and Andrew’s deep insights, really made me stop and think about how I can offer her the best care. It has become necessary for me to do more and more for her, and sometimes that involves less-than-glamorous tasks. The challenge is to do the right things for her, while also finding ways for her to keep her dignity. As her mind is increasingly failing, there are so many abilities and filters that are fading. She is becoming a child. And yet, she is still a human being of great worth. This is what I will ponder on today. How to offer compassion while respecting her and upholding her sense of worth.

    My word for 2014 was JOY. I’ve learned a lot. I’m going to recap the journey on my 12/29 post. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t what I expected. My word for 2015 is also a bit surprising. I’m gonna reveal that on my 1/6 post. Not to be cagey or self-promoting, but I am really still contemplating all of this. I know that God uses these “word themes” in entirely unique ways. He works wonders…


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You are spot-on, Sharon. I remember having to care for my mother in ways that I never thought I would. But to do it in a way that they retain their dignity is so important. Even when my mother didn’t realize it, I did. God bless you as you care for your mother so tenderly.

      I’ll look forward to your recap post on joy, and to hear your new word!

  8. Jean Wise

    I like the thought we are all beginners. Brings an energy back to learning and trying again. That first quote resonated with me. Our churches discussing what local needs in our community should we address: find the brokenness. that is a good line for us to ponder. Wonderful words, as usual. thanks, Lisa

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I loved that line also about finding the brokenness. Sometimes it’s hidden so we think there is no need, but everybody, every community, has a broken place somewhere.

  9. June

    Wonderfully insightful post, Lisa, and great follow-up comments as well. My word for 2014 was intentionally, and I think I did have some success in this area. My word for 2015 is new – which fills me with terror and joyous expectation in equal measure, lol! We shall see what He has in store! Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      “New” is also Teresa R’s pick (above) for 2015. That’s going to be a fascinating word to travel with all year! I’ll look forward to tracking along with your journey, June.

  10. Beverley

    Sometimes we need to show ourselves compassion and not be so hard on ourselves, we can become our own worse judge and we need that compassion too. Still waiting on my word for this year.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Amen to that, Beverley. If we don’t have compassion on ourselves, I think we’ll have less compassion on other people. It’s like the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I need to know how good compassion feels first hand so I’ll be more eager to give it to others.

  11. Loren Pinilis

    Wow, I was floored by your initial thought about focusing on people and not projects. No one wants to be someone else’s project. Wow, that’s pretty convicting. I know I tend to see compassion in that way, now that I think about it.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, who wants to be a project? It strips us of a level of dignity. I’ve watched some amazingly compassionate people this year treat others as special, and I see the difference it makes. I’m still living and learning the difference myself.

  12. Beth

    God sure has a way of getting through with the word HE wants, doesn’t He? I love that He set you on a “compassion” journey in 2014. Clearly you have been both challenged and blessed by walking it this year. These are all such great lessons. Can’t wait to hear what He has in store for you in 2015. This will be my 5th year of One Word and I’ve found it to be such an amazing experience each and every time.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      How exciting that this will be your 5th Year of One Word. I need to go back and count my own numbers of adventures with One Word too. God is so awesome, yes? I’ll look forward to hearing about your new word in 2015!

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