The word won’t go away
The word compassion has been coming often to my mind lately…the kind of niggling, repetitive showing up of a thought I’ve come to recognize as Spirit trying to teach me something.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, compassion‘s etymology can be traced back to French which came originally from Latin:
com– “together” or “with” + pati- “to suffer”
Thus its meaning is “Suffering together with another, participation in suffering; fellow-feeling, sympathy.”
But what does it really mean to be compassionate?
I could call myself a compassionate person. I feel the pain of others. I help them when I can. I’ve worked tirelessly for many charitable causes and sent money to many others.
I feel like a fraud calling myself a truly compassionate person.
I’m tempted to go the long way around when I see a homeless man begging on the street.
I’m likely to move away when I encounter a smelly, shabbily dressed person in public, especially if they’re acting eccentric or deranged.
I’m probably going to avoid someone speaking loudly to all who walk by—or to no one in particular.
Sure, I feel sorry for them. I pity them. But I’m ashamed to say I haven’t always tried to help them.
I don’t want to be this way
I want to be truly compassionate. I want to understand why they’re the way they are.
I want to remember they are someone’s child, someone’s family member, a child of God.
I want to look into such a person’s face and not look away.
Because if I did, I know I would see the face of Jesus looking back at me and feel the connection that comes from recognition of my own hurt and brokenness in the eyes of that stranger.
But this is radical stuff
It’s not sensible.
It’s not safe.
No wonder Jesus upset the status quo when he touched the untouchable—when he dealt compassionately with a man possessed of spirits, a foreign woman touching his garment, an invalid lowered from a hole in the roof, and a blind man on the street.
In a recent devotional for Forward Day by Day, blogger and editor Rachel Jones reflected on the compassion Jesus showed to the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20):
Jesus sees this man for who he is, at the deepest point of his being. Jesus loves him, right where he is, just how he is.
And love like that heals.
It sets free.
It loosens chains and casts out demons; it makes us whole and calls us holy.
Amen to that.
Lord, give me the eyes to see all your children the way you do, the discernment to know what to do when I meet them, and the courage to be a conduit for your love to those whom others might find unlovable.
When I can do that, I might just find I’ve redefined the word compassion.