Compassion. I have been thinking a lot about this word lately. The dictionary definition: sympathy for the suffering of others, often including a desire to help. During the start of the holiday season I hear of many organizations reaching out for things. One organization stated they would like to collect socks for children, another coats, and another, a list of presents for a child during the holidays. I take notice of each of these things and each time my heart goes to those who are in need. I find myself thinking, what could be happening in their lives where they would be unable to provide a coat for their child? This thought breaks my heart.
Compassion is something that was demonstrated to me from an early age. It was fostered early on in my life as I watched my parents care for people, invite them into our home, and even sleep under our roof while they needed a place to live. We would invite those without family or friends to share holiday meals quite often into our home. I look back at the compassion my parents showed to others when I was a child and it is by far one of the greatest things they have ever taught me.
Throughout my life when I hear the stories of the hurting I find myself fighting back tears. Early on in my life I saw compassion lived out by my parents and as I grew I continued to notice the hurting and would often feel overwhelmed and unsure of what I could do to help. For many years I felt stuck because I saw so many needs and didn’t feel adequate to help meet any of those needs. In my early to mid twenties I had a wonderful friend who helped push me out of my place of fear and into practical ways of helping those in need. We spent time working with the homeless in our local area and it stands out to be one of the most fullfilling times in my life. I remember more vividly those faces and stories far greater than any vacation experience. Helping someone in need made a far greater impact on me than I could have ever imagined and I learned what compassion was first hand when I listened to the tragic stories of people in my community.
When I think further about the word compassion I notice that it says sympathy for the suffering and often a desire to help, but what I notice that it does not mention is the natural part that may come after that desire to help. The action behind the intention. Can someone be compassionate without helping anyone in need? Yes. Compassion does not describe fulfilling a need of those who are suffering. It is only to have sympathy for the suffering and desiring to help. What is it that takes a compassionate person and places them on the road to doing something for someone who may be suffering? Courage. Courage is needed to go from the sympathy of a need, to the desire to help, to helping the one in need. Courage means the ability to face danger, difficulty, uncertainty, or pain without being overcome by fear or being deflected from a chosen course of action. To help those in need one must move into the world of uncertainty. That takes faith.
Think about all the suffering that could be helped by our step out into the place of uncertainty or difficulty. Of course it may be uncomfortable and we may need to lay aside ourselves, but wouldn’t it be worth it?