Saturday, July 20, 2013

Compassion in 3-D

Here is an article I recently wrote, attempting to put into words experiences and thoughts about compassion.  It is longer than what I usually post.  How would you describe compassion?  What/how have people best demonstrated compassion to you?

“Compassion in 3-D”

Being a nurse through the years, I’ve had many opportunities to extend what I’ve understood to be compassion to those in need.  Living with a chronic illness has taught me a few more lessons about compassion. 

The real nitty-gritty, rubber-meets-the-road, wrestling with ‘what is compassion’ has come through my most recent battle with Late Stage Neuroborreliosis + 5 Co-Infections.   Being counted amoung the afflicted has given me a plethora of opportunities to experience true compassion from others- as well as a goodly degree of platitudes, scoffing, thoughtlessness, to just plain avoidance…

As a Believer (one who professes to have placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Saviour and Lord) I have all the more intentionally been searching Scripture, and Jesus’ model of compassion; to learn more deeply about what true compassion is- and how I may, through Him, better demonstrate  it to others.

Please understand, what I am expressing here, is really me sharing my thoughts with ‘the choir’, fellow Believers.  Not all of what I have to say is very warm and cozy to the Church.  But, I do think it an important topic for the Church to consider.  (And yes- the whole Church, the Body- not just the paid staff- for we are all called to be commissioners of Christ’s compassion.)

Recently, I was chatting with a Believing friend of mine who is also afflicted with Lyme; we were discussing more spiritual lessons we are learning along this journey of affliction. 

He mentioned how a couple of people he knows will regularly, and with good intentions, feel compelled to verbally spill out particular Bible verses to him.  Now- these are good verses, after all, God never inspired a bad verse, not even one. 

But, however well- meaning this couple is- these verses, and the way they are delivered, come across more as a platitude; and they  bring  double messages such as:  ‘if you only had more faith; you just need to buck- up; you need to pray more; maybe it’s because of sin in your life; here is a Bible verse and  a hug, (because really- it just makes me feel better)’.  

I cringe at how ungracious it sounds for me to be writing this- but I am being brutally honest, from the insiders look.  (I cringe as well, for all the times I know I have been ‘that person’.)

Inside, as we trust in God’s mercy and grace for a godly response, our internal, carnal response is crying out: ‘You have NO clue!  You have absolutely NO idea how many times, days, months, years; I have wrestled with those very verses… I have sat on them, wept over them, chewed on them- swallowed them piece by piece with my parched throat… I have wrestled day and night with God over them- crying out to Him, weeping, seeking—asking for the reality and truth of that Word to permeate me, draw me closer to Him; for It to be my life-line, my life, my Hope…’ 

We afflicted muster a slight, wittingly warm smile, and say “Thank-you.”; while underneath, we can be sorrowed that the person apparently doesn’t understand the depths of that Word like we’ve come to learn of It, and yet- also wishing  for that  person to never be in a place such as we are in order to learn It.

These Words, verses- they are gold nuggets refined in flames, precious; they are not to be tossed out injudiciously as one might do with cheap trinkets to those along a roadside.  Especially to those in such great need of a true Word of encouragement, a kind touch, a listening ear…

Of course- as afflicted we are all at different stages and seasons.  But many, once having sat in suffering for some time- come to learn truisms such as- God is Safety, Hope, Provider, Redeemer…  That it really all does boil down to Only Him.  These things are not just a pretty refrain in some Sunday morning song- but rather indeed where we find perfect peace.

I’m sure I’ve only gotten to understand these truths to shades that plenty of others have learned more deeply than I, but- I understand them more in depth now than ever in my life thus far…  (Currently, I am learning to recognize these as truisms, to stand on them, and to live my life more in congruence with these convictions...)

So how do we differentiate then, for simplicity sake- platitudes, from biblical compassion?  First, let’s define platitude- compliments of  a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially uttered as if it were fresh or profound. (noun)   And, compassion- via  a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (noun)

Being nouns, platitude and compassion have much in common.  In both cases, the one who expresses a platitude or compassion- sees a situation worthy of a response.  Compassion takes that observation a bit further in that the observer has stepped a bit closer into the situation to read that the other person is indeed afflicted, or stricken- and there is a more heart-felt desire to respond.

Taking compassion even further, let’s look at it biblically.  One aspect of biblical compassion I see, is it takes the word compassion out of the realm of noun, and brings it not only to a verb form, but adds dimension to it.  ‘Compassion in 3-D’, so to speak. 

In biblical compassion, not only is the stricken-one seen, and the desire there to alleviate the suffering, but the overriding desire is not to ‘alleviate the observer’s own suffering/awkwardness/pain of being confronted by one who is suffering’;  instead, the observer’s  desire is purely seeking to alleviate the suffering/pain of the afflicted person with  whom they are interacting. 

Not ‘kiss-kiss’ compassion; where a response is made to the stricken really only acknowledging the situation, and again-to usually make the ‘compassionate’ person feel better.

A key component to ‘Compassion in 3-D’, is that it involves time: truly engaging the other, it can be uncomfortable/risky; it asks questions to better understand, listens… asks what needs there are…, takes time to pray in the moment- In some cases, compassion is when the observer plainly admits when they can’t even begin to imagine what that person is going through- but they acknowledge it must be incredibly difficult.  Compassion offers to find resources (such as another whose walked this same path); simply reaches out to hold the afflicted person’s hand; gives a gentle hug; sends a thoughtful note; is willing to just be there…

At a very low point, I humbled myself to see a counselor to try to help sort out things.  Understanding being vulnerable was important to the process, I opened up honestly about my struggles.  Mainly, I was seeking someone who would be willing just to climb down to this low valley- and in my weakened state, take my hand, and just walk me through this in a practical way.  The response from the counselor was something like:  doing so would be ‘an unhealthy thing for a counselor to do’- it was their job to ‘throw a rope down’ to the person for them to grab hold of, and be helped up.

This was stunning to me. The logic of it I understood, but in my deep valley- I saw that counselor as one of the few people who might be willing to step in alongside me to help me navigate the way.  It was very crushing to me.  But, over the days following that ‘counsel’, I sat in the Word, and before the LORD; again crying out to Him about my despair- and how desperately I wanted just ‘that one person’ to understand how things were for me, how I was feeling…someone to take my hand and be willing to walk  through this…  And, my God, who is full of great mercy and compassion, whispered to me- I AM here. 

He has, and does still- bend low to meet with us, even in the deepest depths of despair.  He is our Compassionate Counselor. He takes our hand-… He meets with us in our wounded, darkened state when we cry out to Him.  He meets with us in deep valleys, muddy pig stys, raging seas… 

No particular, formula prayer is needed, just a simple, ‘I need You Jesus!’ 

Our Very Big God, is willing to come down to meet with us in our time of need, no matter how messy it is, however dirty our hand, He will take hold of it.  When we call out to Him- according to His great mercy and grace- He hears, He answers.   Being our High Priest who has dwelt in human flesh; experienced pain, abandonment, poverty, rejection…He has been through it; He gets-it!

At times we think we cannot wait any longer for Him to answer- and then, He reveals Himself.  Sometimes through the Word, sometimes in a whisper during prayer, sometimes He sends one of His saints- at just the right moment…. His is mysterious after all, and He works mysteriously on our behalf.

It boils down simply that it is not as much about trust, but rather it is about the Object of our Trust.  If I say I believe the LORD, and all His attributes, will I choose to live my life in accordance with that belief?

We His saints, when willing, and directed by His Holy Spirit, are invited to participate in His commission of compassion to those afflicted amoung us.  What a ministry- to be an ambassador of Hope! 

Believe me when I say- I am in no position to judge someone’s intentions when it comes to compassion.  That alone is God’s work.  Still, I’ve lived through enough to have experienced times of being offered true compassion, and platitudes- and, as I’ve said, been the one to deliver both. 

In writing this, my main objective is to simply raise the topic of compassion before you, in order for you to perhaps become more in tune with the afflicted/stricken around you.  To see past that person’s affliction; to see someone who is of high value to God.  And perhaps, you may also find there an opportunity for you to extend His compassion- to offer Hope. 

I invite you to take time to conduct your own Bible/Word study about compassion.  You might begin by studying the ministry of the person of Jesus Christ as he ministered to others.  Here is a short list of aspects to Him and His ministry that I found in my short story in just the book of Matthew:


-          He spent time alone with the Father, in prayer, in meditation…

-          He was committed to community fellowship (with others, and as Triune God)

-          He extended mercy, gentleness, honor, grace, compassion

-          He did not demand others to recognize His authority

-          He understood who He was, whom He was; He had healthy boundaries/self-differentiation

-          His goals were to glorify the Father, and edify others

-          He provided for people’s physical needs, social and mental health needs…many times as gateways to ministering to their spiritual need

-          If admonishment was needed for the person’s health-  was done in love

-          He approached many first by asking them questions

-          He was authentic

-          He is good

-          His concern was not foremost for our comfort, but for our knowing Him-and growing in our knowledge of Him

-          He allowed people to ‘sit in the mud’ sometimes, until they were responsive to Him

-          He willingly crossed social-economic barriers

-          He was humble

Again- this is the short list of aspects I found in His ministry of compassion.

Is the LORD speaking to you about compassion?   Talk to Him about it, pray/meditate/study… He will show you opportunities to share His compassion with others.  He will guide you- His Holy Spirit will give you insights, His Word, His direction of action…

Bless you in your journey of compassion~

No comments:

Post a Comment