Developing Compassion

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Having compassion takes courage. Having compassion takes resolve.  Having compassion is not simply a feeling of sympathy for another or a passing feeling of pain, it is a willingness to enter into and, in one sense, carry a person's pain.
In his exploration on what it takes to practice compassion, Henri Nouwen wrote:
“Who can listen to a story of loneliness and despair without taking the risk of experiencing similar pains in his own heart and even losing his precious peace of mind? In short: Who can take away suffering without entering it?”  Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society

We can more effectively enter into someone's suffering when we are first aware of our own places of pain in the past as well as in the present. We need not be fully healed, but being in the process of healing will help us both enter into someone's suffering without confusing their world with our own.

Here are some questions that will help you prepare to practice compassion:
  • Identify places in your past where you experienced loss. How have your processed that loss? In what ways does that loss have an impact on you today?
  • Are you comfortable sitting in silence with someone's pain? What benefits have you found in your own life with someone who allowed you to feel your pain without trying to "fix" you?
  • Do you have space in your heart to enter into someone's suffering?

One more thing: because we live in a world that places such a high priority on our own thinking and feeling, compassion does not come easily. When our lives are centered on our relationship with Christ, that frees us to become more aware of the pain in others, which then propels us towards compassion. What I have found extremely fruitful to pursue compassion are these words of Jesus: "I am the vine and you are the branches. If you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me, you can do nothing." John 15:5

When we remain (or you could say abide) with Christ, compassion is a fruit that literally flows out of you. As you spend time in prayer today, ask God to show you areas in which prevent you from seeing and feeling the pain of others. Then ask God to empower you to practice compassion.

© 2023, Tom Stephen

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