Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Anyone else need to stop, close your eyes, and breathe really slowly for a minute or two?
I want to explore one word today. (Words are my favorite.) I want us to look at it, think about it, analyze it, and then figure out what it means to apply it. (Oh, and then actually go do it.)
Speaking of words,
God, give me words that make you smile, bring you glory. Anything else is no good to me. Amen.
So, what’s the word? Compassion.
Great word, huh. It’s not a word that makes anybody feel anything yucky. It’s a happy word, a word we can all agree is good and important. But I’m a little (lot) bit bummed that we–the ones who call ourselves Christians, Christ-followers, Jesus People–speak this word with little effort, nod our heads in affirmation of this word, no problem, but have a weeeeensy bit of trouble actually living it out.
Compassion. The word literally means to suffer together.
And I love this definition: deep awareness of the suffering of another accompanied by the wish to relieve it.
A quick search shows that the New International Version of the Bible has 82 references to the word compassion. Almost all of them refer to God or Jesus having compassion on people (and there are several from Paul & Peter encouraging the recipients of their letters to be compassionate).
In the Old Testament, God is filled with compassion for people even when they don’t deserve it. It isn’t reserved for those who are good or holy or who have “earned” it (as if we could earn it). And it’s not for a specific group of people who have “chosen” God.
“The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” (Psalm 145:9)
And Jesus? Jesus showed compassion on hungry people, blind people, massive crowds, people who were like sheep without a shepherd. He tells a parable about a father whose son runs off with the father’s money and does bad things and squanders it all and finally comes home, weary and broke, tail between his legs, and what does the father do?
“Bad, bad, naughty son! Let me list all your sins and make you pay for them. Back to the hog pen you go!”
Yeah, nope. He sees him afar off, RUNS to him, and throws him the party of the century.
(“So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” Luke 15:20)
Paul and Peter tell us to clothe ourselves with compassion, to be kind and compassionate to each other, just like God is compassionate to us.
None of this is news to the Bible-believing Christian, right? Of course we’re supposed to be compassionate. Duh.
Time and time again, I think we get this wrong. We have compassion on people, sure, but we pick and choose who. Compassion on our kids, our friends, orphans across the ocean (Compassion kid, anyone? Ours is Gabriel in the Philippines).
Can we think of a people group we might have just a little bit less compassion for?
How about Muslims? Or Blacks (if we’re white)? Or gays? Transgender people? Overweight people? Those who have committed suicide?
If compassion means to suffer together, what does this look like for us?
I know one thing. It means actually trying to put yourself in that person’s shoes. It means asking: What does it really feel like to be a Black man in America? What does it really feel like to be a Muslim woman in Ohio? What does it really feel like to be gay? What does it really feel like to have your outside not match your insides? What does it really feel like to be overweight? What does it really feel like to be in such deep despair that you would take your own life?
It means asking someone who LIVES with [whatever it is] every single day. Not the “experts” or the media or even Bible scholars. It means asking a Black woman or a Muslim teenager or a young gay man or someone who has tried to kill herself, etc etc etc.
And LISTENING to what she says. And BELIEVING him. And VALIDATING that experience as real and important and worth your time.
It is not as simple as flippantly saying, “Well, I don’t really have to imagine, because…” Or, “I don’t care what they say. I know the FACTS.” Or, “It doesn’t really matter what they feel. [X] is a SIN, plain and simple.”
Or, “Not my problem. NOT MY SHOES.”
Yeah, you know what, they really ARE YOUR SHOES. MY SHOES. If we believe in Jesus anyway. Because the Jesus Way to love someone is to feel their pain with them and be moved to alleviate it, not to add to it. To draw them to the Jesus who loves them no matter what, not push them away.
And you know what’s waaaaay better than putting yourself in someone’s shoes?
Putting yourself in his SKIN.
I LOVE this Harper Lee quote from To Kill a Mockingbird: “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.”
Yes. Yes yes yes. Eighty million times YES.
I discussed two issues on Facebook yesterday: suicide and Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner. I linked to a blogger who has blogged insensitively and cruelly (in my opinion) about both. I also linked to two beautiful (in my opinion) posts, one on suicide, one on loving Caitlyn Jenner.
I want to share the responses of two friends that really stood out to me. My friend, John, said: “As a man who has never suffered from any sort of gender dissatisfaction or dysphoria, I can’t fully understand what it’s like to be in the position of feeling deeply and pervasively that I’ve been born in the wrong body. We know from the Bible that ‘Male and Female, God created them.’ But we also know that the fall has radical implications on our hearts, our minds, our bodies, our genomes, and that none of us are born completely in order physically, mentally or emotionally. Beware people who try to radically simplify complex situations to score political points.”
My friend, Corrin, shared this: “Christians so readily accept that people can be born with physical deformities. Missing limbs. Extra chromosomes. If the physical make up can be so jacked in this broken world, why are we so certain gender assignment can’t also be equally broken?”
I don’t have all the answers, but I think Corrin’s is a very, very good question. We can easily toss out, “God created male and female. You’re one or the other. Period.” But are we aware that approximately one in every 1500-2000 babies is born with both male and female sex organs? How do we explain that one?
More from John: “As American Christians, we often segregate ourselves, and thus live insulated from certain real issues, and we stand back and judge from a position of privilege and, frankly, ignorance. We have excluded from our ranks people who experience their sexuality and gender differently, and then operate as if our own sexuality and relationship to gender is normal and healthy. But none of us is ‘straight,’ given God’s apparent ideal: no lusting, no fantasy, no sexual expression or exploration of any kind before or outside of marriage….”
And this: “I’m not saying that the Bible doesn’t give us guidance on sexual and gender issues. I’m only saying that making it a simple, black-and-white issue with ME occupying the permanently and unassailably virtuous position is probably a bad idea.”
We Christians are notorious for wanting things to be black and white.
LIFE IS NOT BLACK AND WHITE.
And, unfortunately, we’re also notorious for thinking we’ve cornered the market on holiness, happily overlooking our own sinful hearts & deeds in our quest to point out the rest of the world’s.
Oh, this is already too long, and I haven’t even touched on suicide. I’ll discuss it at length in another post. It’s so important, and I believe 100% that, if you’ve never felt the kind of soul-killing pain that accompanies clinical depression, you have no right to call it a “selfish choice” or even a “choice” at all.
I know all of these issues are so complex. I’ve barely scratched the surface here. My point in a nutshell?
Compassion must always be our starting point.
Friends, to have compassion is to share another’s suffering. It is not to bash them over the head with the “truth” or anything else. Please please please, can we please try to climb into someone else’s skin and walk around in it for a bit? Listen to their story? Try to understand? Take off the easy-answer black-and-white ME blinders and see what life is really, honest-to-goodness like for someone else?
It’s then, and only then, that I believe we’ll truly be disciples of Jesus.