Sunday, October 26, 2014

Compassion

I tried to explain compassion in class this week.  We finished a novel about a Cherokee girl on the Trail of Tears (Soft Rain by Cornelia Cornilessen) and compassion was a theme of the story.   The Cherokee had to show compassion to one another to survive the journey, and some of the white people along the way showed compassion to the Cherokee as well.   I said, “Compassion is when you go out of your way to show kindness to someone else, especially when they’re in a difficult situation.” 

Generally about the time I think I’m in control of one of these class discussions, the roles reverse and a student ends up teaching me.  This was the case in this moment, as a hand came up in the back and a student bravely and carefully began to share about a difficult situation they had been in and how a family member went out of their way to help.  I know this student’s background and I know the story was told from the heart.  The rest of the class could sense this as well, as you could’ve heard a pin drop in the room as the story wrapped up.  The closing words from this student were, “If that person hadn’t shown compassion on me, I don’t know where I’d be today. 

I will admit I blinked back tears as I attempted to sum up what had been said and how it related to the lesson; in truth, it was probably the most meaningful statement that’s been made in my classroom all year.  I am rarely the person in that room with the most important words to share.  It always amazes me how many times I’ve heard a nine-year-old cut to the heart of a matter with one simple thought. 

God calls us to show compassion, but why?  In the busyness and pressure of real life, it’s easy to forget to show kindness, easy to look the other way when someone else is in a difficult situation.  We don’t see what we could gain by reaching out and we make all kinds of excuses… God will take care of them, someone else will do it, it’s really not my problem, and sometimes- they brought it on themselves.  Until we’re the one in NEED of compassion… Then, suddenly, it’s so clear why God calls us to SHOW compassion.  When you’re the one hurting and most everyone else is looking the other way, if just one person reaches out, it can make all the difference.  I know because I’ve been there.  And I don’t know where I’d be today without the compassion that was shown to me.

But what if we don’t step up to the call? Often those excuses dancing around in our mind are really just our best subconscious effort at disguising God’s voice nudging us in that direction.  Maybe we’re afraid to reach out, because we know that touching someone else’s pain will remind us that, in truth, it IS our problem too, that the only thing keeping us from that difficult situation is the grace of God.  And He’s trying to show His grace to that person now through us, if only we’ll let Him. 

My sweet, smart sister shared about her recent medical missions trip to Haiti at church this morning.  I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of people she and the team she traveled with showed compassion on that week.  As their faces flashed up on a screen during her slideshow, I thought, “If they hadn’t shown compassion on them, where would they be today?” It would have been easy for my sister (and the others) to stay home where they are comfortable, to ignore God’s voice telling them to go.  But what would that have meant for those people who needed their help?

It was a great opportunity my sister had to go on this trip, and many more of should seek such opportunities to show compassion in such an extraordinary way.  But what about in our ordinary every day lives?  There are people in difficult situations all around us.  Will we choose to reach out, or will we cower and look the other way?   

We’ve all been there, on both sides… sometimes feeling the call to help but not quite knowing what to do, other times wishing someone would help us but not quite knowing how to ask.  God puts people in our lives for a reason, and not every person is called to help in every situation.  But if God is calling you to reach out and you the miss the chance… Well, let’s just not go there.  Instead, let those words echo in your mind as well: If that person hadn’t shown compassion on me, I don’t know where I’d be today.”  And let’s not make them find out.

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