“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.
7. COMPASSION ISN’T ABOUT PITY
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.
6. EVERYONE WON’T UNDERSTAND YOUR COMPASSION
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.
5. COMPASSION CAN WRECK YOU
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
4. SOMETIMES COMPASSION IS QUIET
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.
3. YOU MAY FEEL GUILTY FOR NOT DOING MORE
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.
2. WE’RE ALL BEGINNERS AT COMPASSION
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 . . .
1. GOD HAS COMPASSION ON ME
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.
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