Finding Compassion

November 8, 2013

Oh my- it has been a very full fall season for me and my writing has suffered! Fear not, faithful reader, I will be making an effort to return to it regularly. Thanks so much for the comments and interactions I have had over these last weeks with those of you have found God speaking to you through some little thing I my have written. It means a lot to hear those things! I write for myself, but if in the off chance someone else might find Jesus in an entry, that’s a gift.


Early in October, I attended a meeting of colleagues. That’s not the unusual part. That happens regularly if you know anything about my life. What was unusual was what happened there.

But let me back up first. This monthly meeting is not one of my favorite ones. I go because it’s right to go. I go because it’s part of my job as a someone ordained to go. I go because it’s something that I can do during this “meantime season” of my life. However, this meeting became very difficult to go to because someone is there who is not my friend.

It’s my problem really. It’s the same story that all of us have. This person hurt me and got away with it and I’m left wallowing in the after-effects. It happens over and over again to so many of us. Because we are humans and we hurt each other. It just is a reality of life.

So, driving to this meeting has been often punctuated by pleading with God to help me maintain my sense of self, my self- control, and my professionalism, even as I sit across from this man who did wrong toward. And thank the Lord, he has helped me each time. That’s how good God is!

The October meeting however had a tone to it that hadn’t occurred before. This man seemed restless, angry, frustrated. And finally he blurted it out like a spill held back too long, building up pressure: “Sometimes in the last few weeks I have been praying to God and I say to him, ‘I’ve been more faithful than you have, Lord!'”

Thud. An honest and raw statement from someone I didn’t expect to be so raw. And for the first time in a long time, I saw the crumpled up boy behind the 50-something year old man. The child crying out for understanding. The heart broken over the demise of what had been his so proudly. And I felt something for this person that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It started small, but quickly warmed up my soul until I knew it well- compassion. I looked at him and learned what it means to love someone you haven’t loved.

I will confess that at first I didn’t want it there. I didn’t want to feel compassion for this man who had so recklessly ruined so much. I found myself wrestling with a God who refused to let me turn away, look elsewhere. He wanted me to see into that man’s cry. Even if I didn’t want to.

Of course, as in most religious settings, the man immediately backtracked by saying, “It’s a ludicrous prayer. I shouldn’t have even said it to God.” And of course, as is also customary in so many religious settings, people jumped in to rescue him from himself and speak all the Christian clichés to him. Both of those were unfortunate because they detracted from what had to have been one of the most honest moments I had seen of late.

But despite those unfortunate twists, I was struck by his raw vulnerability. And by my response to it. Because I appreciated it. Mostly because I have said those exact same words- which ironically this man berated me for years before. I know that pain. I know that cry. I know that fear. And I also know that the God who hears those words honors where they come from. They come from a place that matters to Jesus.

I faced several choices in that moment. I could turn around and feed back to this man the same poison he fed me when I spoke such painful words. Or I could be willing to sit with him in the pain. I could harden my heart toward him and laugh at his struggle. Or I could care and pray. And understand.

As I drove home, I reflected on this and have thought of it often in the time since. What causes us to have compassion for the people we think are our enemies? So often we think about the command to love our enemies as a white-knuckle-gotta’-do-it-even-though-I-don’t-wanna kind of thing. And it may be that… sometimes… maybe much the time. But sometimes, it’s something that happens outside of us, caused by a supernatural source that drops into our hearts with the heaviness of a bag of bricks, hitting us square in the face with reality that forgiveness, mercy, and compassion are hardly our own making. We very often cannot drum it up. It happens to us, and we are simply faced with the choice to allow it to come or to resist its insistence in our hearts.

Forgiveness is not about the person who acted badly toward us. It is very much about us. It is about God in us. It is about God healing us so we are no longer eaten by the anger toward that sin committed against us. And compassion too is not about whether a person deserves it. It is the nature of God and it cracks its way in even when we are not sure we want it.

I will be honest- I still struggle with this person. What he did to me was wrong- still is wrong. But that doesn’t matter when it comes to the raw cry of a human heart, no matter how much destruction he has done. What matters is God’s love even for someone like him. Or maybe… especially for someone like him.

I have appreciated the moment more and more as time has gone on. Wrestling with my  feelings of both anger at the injustice and compassion for his pain. Perhaps that’s the challenge of living life, and living life as followers of Jesus. That it’s not always as easy and clear cut as we think. That Jesus causes us become “newly and fully human” as we were created to be, and yet we still struggle with the “old flesh.” Those pieces and parts and parcels of us that crave things be made “right” the way we desire clashing with the ascent of goodness that calls us to see, even for just a second, the way the God sees. Those hearts that struggle hard to learn how to forgive as we have been forgiven.

It doesn’t change what has happened. But it changes the way I respond to this person. And who knows? Maybe… hopefully… it changes me even deeper than simply a response, too.

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