Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Compassion (literally "to feel with") is a deep awareness of, and sympathy for, another's suffering. But more than that, more than empathy, there is an active desire to do something about it, to alleviate another's suffering. In what ways is compassion a natural response, and in what way is it a discipline?

As a human, as one created in the image of a compassionate God, compassion should be a natural response to seeing the pain of others. Some of us are naturally less inclined to feel compassion towards others, but that's no excuse for having a cold heart and not caring for others, or not wanting to do anything about it. One antidote to a heart that is feeling a lack of compassion is to go ahead and be compassionate. Sometimes our feelings guide our actions, but often our behavior can drive our feelings and thoughts in a positive way, reinforcing the behavior and ultimately changing the heart.

The spiritual discipline of compassion then is about breaking the habit of indifference. It's about extending practical help towards someone who is hurting, become the healing presence of Christ to them. Scripture frequently talks about Jesus' compassion (e.g. Mk 1:41, Mt 15:32) and commands us to do the same (I Pe 3:8-9).

What are some practical ways we might practice this kind of compassion? Adele Calhoun lists several in her "Spiritual Disciplines Handbook"
  • Find opportunities to comfort and support those who suffer or are oppressed
  • Rather than react to your own wounds by lashing out, seek to heal relationships
  • Rather than passing judgment on someone hurting due to a poor choice, show mercy
  • Read the newspaper with a prayerful attitude and a compassionate heart
  • Volunteer in some kind of community-based service like a soup kitchen
  • Visit someone who is sick, hospitalized, shut-in, and attend to their needs in love  

No comments: