Sometimes I feel as though my capacity for compassion is low. As a Christian and a youth minister’s wife, I am ashamed to admit this. In fact, the past three years of ministry have made me more calloused. Before full-time ministry, compassion came easily to me. I felt deep, genuine empathy and love for others. We nurtured vulnerability in relationships. Alas, one of the unintended pressures of ministry, (and sometimes church in general) is the donning of a facade. We leave our junk at home and paint on what I like to call my “Michelle Dugger smile” (though I greatly admire her). We mask our pain, struggles, hurts, and fears; yet, we know that is not what God intended church to be. We create safe spaces for our teenagers to open up and share, all the while hoping our fatigue or pain doesn’t show through.
Our God is a compassionate God. His bride, the church, is supposed to be a place of vulnerability, healing, and fading facades. I have asked myself several times this past year, how can I expect to experience compassion without vulnerability?
Appearance is deceptive. Maintaining an image will only leave you isolated. Connection requires compassion.
I have seen it time and time again. The “perfect” family divorces and everyone is shocked. No one knows why because they kept everyone at bay with facades, and we didn’t ask real questions or show real concern or interest. The fault may be on both sides. But we as individuals have to let people in to experience vulnerability and compassion:
Each heart knows its own bitterness / and no one else can fully share its joy. -Proverbs 14:10 (NLT)
As we read together this morning, my husband and I puzzled over this verse. We concluded that no one can know someone else’s heart, especially if we don’t let down our guard once and awhile. In ministry, you do have to be a bit choosy who you open up to. Churches are made up of imperfect people, and people gossip in the name of prayer lists. But we have learned that the only way for us to refuel on God’s grace and compassion is to once and awhile allow others to fill us. This is one reason why I sought out the Christian blogging community. I feel encouraged, challenged, and heard here. (Thank you for that…)
Another way to refuel on God’s grace and compassion is to remember that like love, it is a muscle we must exercise. Sometimes in offering it to others, we find more of it in ourselves. I am trying to exercise my compassion muscle more in three ways:
1. Listening more to others. So often a hurting heart will let down its defenses and lay itself bare before you if you simply, genuinely listen.
2. Beginning at home. What is the point of being compassionate to the man on the street if we go home and don’t show our spouses or children grace and compassion? For me, practicing grace, love, forgiveness, and compassion begins at home in my marriage. Our families deserve the best out of us, not the leftovers.
3. Spreading Compassion Worldwide. God laid it on our hearts to join Compassion International just over a year ago. We sponsor a nine-year-old boy named Axel in the Dominican Republic. His picture is on my inspiration board above my desk, and an updated one is on our fridge. Remembering to pray for him, send money, and write back and forth through letters allows us to get out of our bubble and intentionally care about someone else. God calls us to be compassionate to widows, orphans, and those in poverty.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
but he who is generous to the needy honors him. – Proverbs 14:31
What validated the early church the most (in my opinion) was their compassion for their world. They knew the end result and it gave them courage to be compassionate to the point of death. They took in the sick that families kicked out in fear during the Black Plague, they brought home and raised the abandoned and unvalued baby girls in the Roman Empire that had been left in the city’s dump to die. The church’s compassion then and now should be its defining trait. But that means it has to begin on an individual level. It’s our job. It MUST begin with US.