Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV).
Friend to Friend
It was Easter Sunday, and I was sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the worship service to begin. Anticipating a large crowd, I arrived early to drop Jered off in the nursery, one of his favorite places to go since every nursery worker doted on him. As the choir filed in, a friend slipped into the pew beside me and said, "I think you need to go to the nursery. Something is wrong with Jered." Jumping up, I leapt over legs, toes, and pews as I raced to the church nursery and my son.
I was not prepared for what I saw. In a far corner, lying on his favorite red mat was Jered, staring at the ceiling, silent and rigid. As I bent over him, searching those beautiful blue eyes, huge tears slid down his chubby cheeks as he flew into my arms, sobbing. You have to understand - as a baby, Jered cried only when he was hungry, wet, or sick. He always seemed to be smiling, happy, and contented. Something was obviously very wrong. I kissed his forehead. No fever. I checked his diaper. Dry and clean. The snack box I had packed for him earlier that morning was empty. I had no idea what had broken my son's heart, but I certainly intended to find out.
Just then, Mrs. Giles, Jered's favorite nursery worker, drew me aside and said, "Let me tell you what happened. We had a new little girl in the nursery today. It was her first time in a church nursery - ever. When her parents left, she immediately began screaming and wouldn't stop. Jered came running and wrapped his arms around her, but she pushed him away. He then brought her his bottle, but she hurled it across the room and continued screaming. Desperate to help her, Jered then found his diaper bag and fished out Turtle.
Turtle was a small, green-and-blue stuffed turtle we had given Jered during a stay in the hospital when he was seriously ill with the croup. From the moment Jered saw Turtle, they were inseparable. He slept with Turtle clutched tightly in one hand, ate with Turtle sitting in his lap or on the table beside his plate, and carefully tucked Turtle in his diaper bag whenever we left the house. Turtle was his most precious possession and was an invaluable source of comfort to him.
Mrs. Giles continued, "I couldn't believe Jered was willing to give Turtle to a stranger, but he tried." The crying child took one look at Turtle and threw it in Jered's face. Stunned, he picked up Turtle, dusted it off, and lay down on the mat, refusing to move, the stuffed animal clutched tightly in his arms. Then I knew. I knew Jered couldn't stand to see the little girl in pain and was determined to help. When he couldn't, he retreated, waiting for someone else to help. That's compassion.
Compassion is not just sympathy. It is empathy. When it comes to dealing with difficult people, we mistakenly equate compassion with "fixing" them. Genuine compassion is first able to feel their pain. I believe one of the reasons we encounter and are commanded to deal with sandpaper people is because the more pain we experience, the more compassionate we will be. We must learn to use our pain in the right way, not lashing out, but looking within to share the pain of others. There is a choice in every pain, an opportunity in every trial. Pain makes us focus inward or outward. It makes us martyrs or merciful. The choice is ours.
I have a love-hate relationship with the Good Samaritan in the Bible. The Samaritan chose to use his pain and help an injured man. He understood the man's pain because of the pain in his own life. The Jews hated all Samaritans. The man lying on the road was a Jew. There was no logical reason for this Samaritan to rearrange his plans and spend his money to help this "enemy" or "sandpaper person" in need. But compassion doesn't look for reasons or search out limitations. It searches for opportunity. The Samaritan had a choice, just as we have a choice every time we are confronted with a need. We must adjust our thinking to understand that sandpaper people are needy people. We can either ignore the need, or we can meet the need by giving away part of the comfort God has given us when we have been in pain.
Galatians 6:2 (NLT) "Share each other's troubles and problems, and in this way obey the law of Christ."
If we can't prevent pain, we can at least lighten the load with compassion. Alan Redpath wrote, "You can never lighten the load unless you have first felt the pressure in your own soul." Compassion makes us willing to feel the pain of others, responding as if it were our own.
Father, forgive me when I respond in anger to the difficult people in my life. I really want Your love to flow through me to each sandpaper person with whom I come in contact. Give me Your heart of compassion to feel their pain and then teach me how to look for ways to help ease that pain.
In Jesus' name,