When we lost a baby in June of 2013, friends who had known about the pregnancy—my small, intimate circle of girlfriends and our church small group at the time—showed up at our door. They didn’t linger, just quietly dropped off food. Lasagna. Casserole. Chocolate chip cookies. Two gallons of the best Italian ice from a local place.
Hugs and comfort in the form of food. Acknowledgment of our loss, of our pain. An attempt to alleviate some of our suffering.
I’m sure it wasn’t the first time I’d been on the receiving end of compassion. But when I thought hard, wracking my memory troves for personal examples, this was the first to come to mind—perhaps because it was our first experience with deep grief.
I’m not the best nurse when loved ones are sick. Fine, I’m a terrible nurse. It brings out the yuckiest parts of me, my deep-down selfishness. I prefer to deny my husband’s and kids’ obvious symptoms of imminent illness. “I’m sure it’s just allergies!” “You just need a glass of water.” “If you lie down for a few minutes, you’ll feel better.” “You’re just overtired!” Please don’t throw up, please don’t throw up, please don’t throw up.
It’s an inconvenience to set aside my plans, my goals, my time. My showers and sleep, if I’m being real here. To drop everything I want to do in order to alleviate someone else’s suffering—in this case, suffering that involves phlegm, vomit, and/or mucus.
I can think of times—far, far worse than my family catching a cold—when I’ve chosen to pretend someone’s pain wasn’t real in order to spare myself discomfort or inconvenience.
It’s much easier to be self-centered. More comfortable keeping my eyes to the ground and pretending that everyone around me is probably fine. Less painful than noticing, looking, caring, and stepping into someone else’s hurt.
Nobody wants to admit this stuff. I don’t. I told you, it’s yucky. Thank God for grace, forgiveness, and new beginnings.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
I can’t remember at what point in 2016, year of brave, the word compassion showed up. But once it showed up, it didn’t go away. It became a recurring theme, a rhythm. And the more I opened myself up to it, the more I began to feel.
Compassion: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering. Synonyms: commiseration, mercy, heart, tenderness, clemency. Antonyms: mercilessness, indifference.
I have no idea what God has in store, and to be honest, the thought of embracing compassion as a theme this year scares me—so much so that when the “word of the year” conversations began back in December, I hesitated in voicing it even though I’d known it would be my 2017 word for a while.
I don’t know that I’ll be documenting publicly where this road takes me, but I do want to leave this here as a marker. I’m praying that in 2017, God will cultivate in me a more compassionate stranger, friend, sister, daughter, wife, and mother. In Jesus’ name.
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