Wednesday, May 6

What is compassion?

A few weeks ago I blogged about my reaction to Slumdog Millionaire and the real, terrible, injustice it depicts. I was talking with my boss while we waited at the bank about the 34 children who have been killed in Chicago during this school year, and about gang violence. Gang violence is another disease of our world that makes me dizzy with anger and sick to my stomach as my heart goes out to the children living in fear of it.

I've talked with several people close to me about responding to the evil in our world. I can't help but intensely feel pain for suffering children, here in the United States or in India. Part of me wants someone to swoop in and punish the people responsible, and use whatever means hurts the most. Part of me wants to adopt all the children in India, or maybe just the 17 girls on Compassion's website who have been waiting over 6 months for someone to sponsor them. Neither is very realistic, but I want to do something. Anything. Even if it's just to punch someone in the face and stand between them and whatever child they're hurting.

I read something on Compassion's blog today that helped me as I thought about all these things:

I could not remember feeling as angry as I did then. Shaking, I stood there ready to hunt this man down and end his reign of abuse and oppression. The wall beside me felt the brunt of my anger as I punched it in an outburst of rage.

In that moment, I started to identify with the conflict in my spirit. My anger was telling me to fight for justice. My rage wanted to give the oppressor his dues.

On the other hand, sympathy was telling me to heal the injustice. Love was calling me towards freeing the oppressed.

Compassion hijacked my anger that day. My rage turned in on itself, and instead of driving me towards administering my own form of justice, it fueled a determination to feel deep empathy and act on the pain and sorrow I was experiencing.

When faced with the raw injustices in our world, it is our tendency to want to fight for justice. It is our human nature to want to retaliate and oppress the oppressor and fight the fighters.

But love calls us to a higher place. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, and heal injustice. The war we fight within us is between acting on our hate or being driven by love.

Compassion is what we do when love wins. - Pastor Tim Bailey of Hillside Church in London, ON

This man, when asked for his definition of "compassion", shared the story of his encounter with a 10-year-old little girl in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who was abused and held as a slave by her uncle after the death of her parents. His initial reaction isn't so different from mine. But he's right: we are called to love our enemies. Even if the enemy manifests itself as an abuser of an innocent child.. yes, I suppose, even then.

The trouble with this is that your heart breaks. Hatred and anger give a false feeling of strength and defensiveness. It's easy to stand and judge and shout and swear when I let my anger and hatred of these evil men and women take over. But when I (unwillingly at first) accept that I must love even these people even when I don't see how it's possible, the anger and the false pride that keep me standing crumble. My pride and my heart break and I'm on my knees crying with nowhere to go but to the Lord.

Which is where I should have been all along.

Judgment is for the Lord only. In the grand scheme of things, I'm really only a few bad decisions away from being just like these people I hate so much. I need to do what this pastor in Ontario has done and let compassion take over. I'm not helping any children by letting anger and hate fill my heart and distance me from the Lord. I can't save them, not even one. Rescuing is the Lord's job. What I can do is unite myself to His will in this fight and love the best that I can.

On Monday I told Amy I had decided to sponsor a child (or 17) through Compassion. Being the supportive friend she is, she offered to split the cost with me right then and there. I was overwhelmed looking at all the beautiful faces (I chose to specify a girl from India) and couldn't choose. She suggested, "The older children probably have a harder time getting a sponsor." Sure enough, I found a twelve-year-old girl who has been waiting more than 6 months for a sponsor. I made the first donation and now we've adopted beautiful little Miss Karthigai. I wrote her a letter online, since that gets to her much faster than snail mail and I didn't have any pictures to send yet. Pray for her with us, please!

That's one step I'm taking in the direction of compassion and away from hate.


  1. I have been reading on Angie Smith's blog about Compassion (you must have been too!). I was looking at the website today and thinking about sponsoring a kid. They seem to do incredible work!

    Sarah Mac

  2. I am proud of you for finding this girl and doing something to better her life. It may not seem like much to the world but to her it may mean the world. You have an amazing heart and I'm glad you are allowing the waves to smooth the sea glass. (that's right commenting two blogs in one)


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