Jesus modeled compassion as he traveled through towns and villages caring intentionally for those others regarded as less than or as we might say today "on the fringe." He healed the woman who was unclean from years of hemorrhaging, the man possessed by demons, and the man sitting by the pool at Bethsaida. He ate with tax collectors, fed a crowd of people with a myriad of needs, reached out to lepers and healed those handicapped.
What does compassion mean? Dictionary.com defines compassion as "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering."
Recently I was thinking of my early experiences with compassion and wrote the following definition based on those moments: compassion is an awakening of tender places in the heart where love for others is birthed.
Although I did not grow up in a home where compassion was demonstrated, God was able to penetrate through the darkness in my life and awaken my heart to others. Here are two stories that occurred when I was seven and eight years old where I felt compassion stir my heart.
Two little girls, Kathy and Judy, were our next door neighbors. Kathy, the oldest, had learning and speech delays. She was my age, but her functioning was more appropriate for a three-year-old. I quickly learned the patterns of her speech and language. Sounds were distorted and sentences were incomplete. Kathy and Judy joined my brother and me as we played in the sandbox next to our house. We made bridges, roads, pancakes and smoothed the sand over and over with our hands. Kathy usually sat on one of the sandbox corner benches playing with her doll, observing.
One day she kept saying, "Capy on. Capy on."
None of us understood what she was saying until I watched her and realized she was trying to put a cap on her doll's head. During the years we lived next door to Judy and Kathy we shared many similar moments. I felt my heart expanding with compassion for the child who was my age twin, but many years younger developmentally.
One of the fellow students in my fourth grade class was Ruth Loop. Ruth was tall and slender with straight black hair, bangs and an olive complexion. Ruth stood out because her left arm ended at the elbow. No one knew if her handicap was the result of an accident or a birth defect. Ruth always had a sad expression on her face. I never saw her smile.
Ruth didn't let her short arm keep her from participating in playground activities like hopscotch and jump rope. Although Ruth couldn't hold two ropes for double-dutch, we girls let her jump anyway. Playground compassion was evident in the way everyone treated Ruth, wanting her to be included in all activities.
Recalling these stories of compassion reminds me of God's power to work in all circumstances. We are told nothing can separate us from God's love. Even an unloving home could not prevent God from entering my heart and stirring compassion that has followed me through decades.
How do you define compassion?
What are your earliest memories of compassion in your life?
Prayer: Every day, God, you bring us men, women and children who are "on the fringe", of life in some way. Guide our hearts with extravagant compassion as you modeled to respond to their needs with acceptance and love, reflecting the compassionate heart of Jesus. Amen.