Many of us want to be more compassionate. At least at our best moments. But we are challenged when we read Paul’s invitation to put on compassion like we would put on clothing. If you are like me, we struggle to figure out exactly what learning to be more compassionate means. Where do you find compassion lessons?
I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and I’d like to suggest some possibilities.
Learn what compassion is and isn’t. By word origin, compassion means “suffering with”. Not suffering for, but somehow coming into the presence of and joining in someone’s suffering. There is a tenderness to the word, and a sense of mercy. In the New Testament, there is an image of being moved in our gut, what we would describe as having our heart broken as we look at someone’s pain.
Right away, this suggests when I look at someone with compassion, I’m not looking with judgment about their wrongdoing. I’m not feeling guilty about my contribution to it. I’m not looking at them from an emotional distance or from a position of power. I may enter into their weakness, but the kind that is a willing surrender of power and control for the sake of being with someone else’s pain.
Compassion also isn’t whatever actions follow. We may do a variety of things, like give care or attack the structures which are causing the pain. We may develop solutions. But compassion isn’t any of those things. It’s what comes first and shapes whatever comes after.
At the beginning of the story we know as the Good Samaritan, a man on a trip noticed a bloodied man by the road and “he had compassion.”
Everything that followed came from this core response.
So if we want to grow in our compassion, we can start by noticing people, recognizing their pain, and starting to ache with them.