Learning Compassion

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Have you ever experienced some particular problem or pain that surprised you by how debilitating it was? Perhaps it was a sore toe, or an earache that outwardly seemed small, but it made your day a major struggle. Then along comes someone who says, “I get infections in my toe all the time, and it’s uncomfortable but I don’t let it bother me. You just need to praise the Lord and keep going.” Well, though we do need to strive to “give thanks in all circumstances,” trying to keep your head above water may be difficult for you at these times.

There you are, feeling as if you’re unable to even think straight. How do you communicate the agony to someone who has never had to face this exactly? Are you just being a big baby? Or is it possible that pain and suffering affect each person in different ways?

We can’t see what is going on inside of others. They may actually be making a superhero-like effort, considering what they’re enduring, but we tend to see things very differently. We see the human being buckling under what to us might look like something trivial. From our perspective, what a person appears to be struggling with might not seem like such a big deal, but are we really able to judge whether that is true?

It seems obvious that those experiencing famine, war, violence, or torture, are facing levels of suffering and loss that are far greater than what most people go through. But many times there are cases of suffering that are severe and debilitating, yet they are borne internally, invisibly. Outwardly, the depths and magnitude of what people are going through isn’t apparent.

I know someone who I consider a true saint of God who has faced pain and suffering for much of his life on a scale that I’m certain I could never have kept going through. Yet, in spite of barely being able to open his eyes sometimes for the pain, he gets up and launches, or sometimes limps, into his day, showing patience and dedication and compassion on others, and always praising the Lord. He’s so positive that you could easily pass by him and not even realize the suffering that he faces daily.

Besides physical suffering, there is another form of suffering that can be every bit as intense, yet even less visible to our eyes. The Bible talks about how the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear that would seem to indicate that some spiritual suffering is even more unbearable than the infirmities and suffering of the body and mind.

Even the terrible physical agony that Jesus faced couldn’t compare to the horrors that He went through as He experienced the death of the sinner, total isolation from God and apparent abandonment by His Father. That short sentence “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” which He cried out from the cross, had a depth of utter and total anguish of spirit behind it that dwarfs any experience of physical or mental suffering. It was the ultimate in spiritual suffering, which we will never have to face because He faced it for us. But that suffering was not fully visible to the eye.

The Bible admonishes us not to judge according to outward appearance. Things might look fine to us, when the reality is actually very different. Our perception of the situation could cause us to minimize what someone is passing through. So many factors can turn something that might seem trivial to us into a life-shattering experience for someone else.

At some point we’ll all probably encounter what to us may seem to be someone’s overreaction to or difficulties coping with something that we see as minor. We may feel tempted to take a “just get over it” attitude. But I hope we can always remember that we may have no idea what another person is facing and experiencing or how difficult some seemingly minor affliction, setback, or inconvenience may be for them.

Compassion is so essential to our helping those we encounter each day. This touch of His Spirit through our showing understanding and mercy can demonstrate His unconditional love, even when we don’t know what to do or say. His compassion through us can comfort others in their tribulation with the comfort that we ourselves have been comforted with by God. 

He sees what we’re incapable of seeing. We don’t have to determine to what degree someone is suffering or make a call as to whether someone is worthy of His love and compassion poured through us as His representatives here. His commission to us is to follow Him and to demonstrate His unconditional love to this world that’s so in need of it. So let’s avoid judging or sizing things up according to our own understanding when it comes to the challenges and afflictions others face. Let’s strive to be the best example of God’s love we can be. The rest is in His hands.