The voice of compassion calls us to reach out and minister to one another. After all, the origin of the word “compassion” is the Latin word “compati” which means, “to suffer with.” With the recent spread of a stomach flu that is going around the school system in my town, the word “compassion” instantly conjures a vision of parents caring for their children.
Renowned spiritual writer Henri Nouwen wrote, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
As I go about my life, it is good for me to be aware of, and to explore, the instances where I might feel uncomfortable or resistant to compassion as I interact with others. No matter the relationship, it is important to notice the places where compassion may be lacking; where my heart may be hardened. Do I recognize and accept these as possible invitations to growth and new life, or do I avoid them?
Often when I heed the call to compassion, it leads to a place of discovery, re-discovery, and ultimately, joy. Compassion often holds the key to both joy and peace. It calls me to look beyond myself. It is rather interesting that in looking outward, I can see more clearly inward. With compassion, there is healing in both directions.
It does not end there though. Compassion, like so much through which grace shines, is multi-faceted. On the one hand, it has us reaching out to others, but on the other, it has us coming back to also show care for ourselves. One cannot give what one does not have.
Sometimes compassion and sacrifice go hand in hand, challenging us to open and lend our hearts all the time, and in many different places. Even those times and places that may not be convenient or preferred. However, compassion does not always require sacrifice. There are times when the greatest expression of compassion is simply being present…lending one’s ear…offering a caring smile.
In ministry and in service to one another…in being present, moving a little closer, and listening attentively, we both embrace and, at the same time, exude compassion.