On Compassion

My youngest daughter is very compassionate. She is very intuitive in comforting people when they’re sad or upset. And she’s tiny and adorable, so it always works. “Compassionate,” is not the first word I would use to describe myself…nor the second. Truthfully, I really struggle with showing compassion to others, and I pondered the reason for that today. I certainly enjoy receiving gentleness and compassion from others, why do I have such a hard time reciprocating that to other people?

This is by no means a justification for a lack of compassion, and being that God the Father is described as being “compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in faithful love,” Jesus is “gentle and humble in heart,” and the Holy Spirit is our “comforter,” I absolutely intend to cultivate compassion in myself so as to reflect the heart of my God. This is merely some self-reflection I thought it prudent to share in case some others experience this same tendency toward cynicism and terseness.

Vulnerability makes me uncomfortable. Pregnancy was extremely difficult and humbling for me in that regard. I was physically much weaker than my usual self, incapable of lifting, slow moving, constantly exhausted and fatigued. It was uncomfortable needing and depending so much on other people. Because people are fallible, yes? Putting stock in other humans to come to my aid was nerve wracking. What if they don’t follow through? What if they don’t have the time or means to help? What if I’m stuck like this forever!? I know, pregnancy doesn’t last forever… But 4 kids in 5 years sure does feel like forever.

I don’t handle pain well. In fact, when I experience pain, I prefer to be left alone, untouched, and undisturbed, until such time as I’m able to express my hurt calmly and rationally. That image of the husband lovingly massaging his wife’s temples as she’s in labor was NOT even close to my ideal. In fact, my husband (jokingly, sort of) stayed arm’s length away from me just in case I decided to throw a right hook during contractions, until I would ask for a hand to squeeze. I do not like, nor do I know how to respond to other people’s pain.

Maybe I’ve adapted to my husband’s lack of effusive emotions. In a way, I can see that. He prefers for me to look at the world through the lense of logic and reason as opposed to wild emotionality. I’ve cultivated that skill, but now I think maybe I should switch gears and learn to empathize with others. Our spiritual gifts inventories were both extremely low, if not non-existent in the category of mercy. All I could think was, “Our poor children.”

I am stern with my children. I expect a lot from them. Mostly because I know they are capable of a lot, and they have great capacity to learn, and act. But at the same time, I don’t want to push them so hard that they burn out, or that they think I’m never satisfied with who they are in the moment.

Sally Clarkson mentions the concept of “radical acceptance,” what if this person in my life never changes? Am I willing to offer them grace, regardless of my expectations? Am I willing to accept them as they are, and pray for God to grow them? My brain says yes, that is what Jesus did. But enacting that same grace is difficult for me. Why?

I think training myself to see things as they are, and to recognize habitual patterns in people and events has distanced me from looking at people in their context and seeing their emotional perspective. In pursuing rationality, I’ve neglected to account for the emotions of others, and for God’s part in the situation. I saw this clearly in Scripture with Sarai and Hagar (Genesis 16) Sarah, looking at the facts in front of her, decided it prudent to give her slave to her husband. Culturally, this was done to ensure that the patriarch had an heir. The slave would relinquish her child to her masters to raise as their own. Sarai didn’t account for Hagar’s emotional context (Genesis 21:1-20). She did not expect Hagar to become haughty. She did not account for Hagar’s response to successfully producing a male child. She did not consider that God had a plan that did not warrant her interference or intervention. I see a lot of myself in Sarai. I look at a situation and think, ok, this is what needs to happen, so here’s what I’ll do to help this along. I often choose “My will be done, not Thy will be done.” Can anyone else relate? Especially in instances where God has clearly shown me what a long-term goal is, but has omitted the revelation of the details in how to get there, I meddle. I meddle in God’s business, and I try, and strive, and plan, and do. And it rarely ends well for me, and I often end up putting my foot in my mouth.

And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

Acts 1:7, KJV

What if Sarai had just waited patiently? What if she accepted that there were things about her life that she could not fully understand? What if she had understood that parts of her story would be interwoven with stories of people for generations beyond her? What if she had trusted God to fulfill his promise in His own way in His own time? I forget these things, daily.

Sarai didn’t have compassion on Hagar. In fact, she resented Hagar and the entire situation was her own doing. But the LORD had compassion on Hagar. He saw her circumstances and he delivered her and her son. He literally made the best of a bad situation. But there were consequences. Ishmael’s people lived at odds with Isaac’s people. There have been factions and warring to this very day. I don’t want to live my life impatiently, callously, and discompassionately.

I want to rest in the LORD. I want to learn to see people in their contexts and learn to hold my tongue in situations where I lack understanding- which would be most of them. And my only shot at success in doing so is to practice it in the every day. I must practice looking at my children’s emotions through their individual contexts. Why is this so distressing to them? Why are they pushing back so much? What is causing this emotional response? Questions I’ll do well to ask more often, and pay attention to their answers.

Pray for me- I know asking the LORD to develop this in me will result in many opportunities to practice it. Practice may make perfect, but facing pruning and refining is rarely easy or enjoyable.

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