I have a confession to make. Compassion isn’t a natural strength of mine.
I’m often really quick to rationalize a situation, explain the logical consequences to actions made, or just flat out not want to engage in the hard work of compassion. Maybe you struggle with the same thing.
In order to be a person who breeds compassion, you need to recognize the ways in which you could have shown compassion but didn’t.
My son is now a little over a year old. And as is common for most parents of a toddling boy, falls, bumps, and bruises are not just a daily occurrence–sometimes they’re hourly. When he first began to crawl and walk, I was quick to offer him comfort and encourage him to try again, even if that meant falling. That intentionality has quickly fallen by the wayside.
Recently, Silas came running around the corner, tripped over his foot and fell flat on his back. I was in the process of trying a new recipe for dinner (a rare moment), and I was deeply focused on “slowly adding in the milk, while stirring constantly.” So I looked down at Silas as he laid flat on his back and told him, “You’re okay,” and went back to my recipe.
Still crying, he picked himself up off the floor and grabbed my knees as he rubbed his head. I was very much aware of what was happening. But I didn’t want to stop stirring and ruin dinner. So I continued doing what I was doing.
Now, I’m all for grace in parenting and not rescuing your child every time they take a tumble. But I missed an opportunity to show empathy and compassion to my son when he was actually looking for it.
Honestly, I probably overlook these types of obvious opportunities more than I realize. As long as we are around other people, there will be moments to actively be compassionate. But for every opportunity to show compassion, there’s also an excuse to lack compassion. It’s important to identify our implicit biases and rationalizations in order to overcome them.
Here are 3 bad excuses for lacking compassion.
1. Their Suffering Isn’t “That Serious.”
I know a few people who have lost family members due to COVID-19, and it has been so difficult to know what to say. But what I found the most difficult was how many of them shared their news to me by saying, “I know it’s not as difficult as you losing your mom, but my cousin just passed away.”
They were trying to express the level of tragedy they were dealing with in comparison to the loss I endured many years ago. This was hard for me to hear, because I never want anyone to think I don’t value the suffering they’re enduring.
To varying degrees, we all do this. We hear about someone’s pain or suffering in their life and we want to weigh it out on the degree of seriousness scale. Certainly, there are varying degrees of suffering we experience in life. But when it comes to showing compassion we aren’t the one who needs to make that diagnosis.
Too often, we’re quick to gauge the level of suffering of another person and then decide whether or not it requires a compassionate response. But what if our first reaction was compassion? How would that change the conversation or even your relationship with that person?
It shouldn’t matter how serious you deem a person’s suffering to be. You should step into the pain and show sympathy or concern. When you see your role as a compassionate partner rather than diagnostic expert, the entire situation shifts. People will feel more comfortable sharing with you knowing you value them and the suffering they are enduring, no matter how big or small.
When someone is suffering, seize the opportunity to display Jesus, rather than display your supposed emotional maturity.
Too often, we’re quick to gauge the level of suffering of another person and then decide whether or not it requires a compassionate response. But what if our first reaction was compassion? Click To Tweet
2. They are part of the problem.
This is an excuse I’m really prone to use when I’m lacking compassion.
When someone is sharing their situation with me, and I can clearly see how the outcome is a natural consequence to their own actions, I have a hard time showing compassion. If they’re the one contributing to their own problem, then they just need to change what they’re doing and things wouldn’t be so bad. Know better, do better.
But that’s not exactly the way to connect with a person going through something difficult.
It reminds me of Jesus encountering the woman at the well. We don’t know the full story of what happened in the woman’s life to end up with five ex-husbands and a live-in lover. But it sounds like a real scandalous situation. From first glance, it would make you think she just needs to make better decisions with her life.
And Jesus doesn’t shy away from the truth of her situation. But his encounter with her is not full of judgement, life coaching, or advice giving. Instead, he shows compassion and digs even deeper into her life. He gets to the heart of the issue in her life and offers her living water.
I imagine Jesus could have responded to this woman in so many different ways. But he responds in the one way that actually matters. He deals with the real issue at hand and not the many symptoms of that issue.
It’s so easy to believe that someone isn’t deserving of compassion because they are part of their own problem. But in many ways, this is true of all of us. Not one of us is free of bad life choices or wrongly applied wisdom. Every one of us has been in a difficult situation that we put ourselves in. And the last thing you want is for someone to write you off because of it.
Becoming a compassionate person requires you to judge a little less.
3. I just don’t have time.
The lack of time plagues us in so many areas of life, but especially when it comes to engaging and connecting with other people. Our days are so full of tasks and obligations that we forget to care for people.
The act of stopping and listening is so hard because it could lead to something else on the list not being cared for. One of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve ever received as a parent is to let my to-do list go. Let me tell you, I’m someone who grips tightly to that list and it doesn’t matter the cost, I will complete it. I’ve found myself so obsessed over getting things done that I miss valuable moment after valuable moment. My to-do list pulls me away from people and makes me focus on things.
Jesus was a man with a very clear mission that drove his life, but it always involved people. His mission was people. If our mission is things, then what kind of a mission are we living?
This might be one of the most challenging hurdles to overcome, the hurdle of time. You can’t make more time in the day, but you can choose how you spend it and what takes priority.
Showing compassion is all about other people. It’s about listening, being present, caring, and empathizing. None of this is possible when you’re too busy caring for the things on your list. We simply must stop to be present with people. When you are available for people opportunities to give and receive compassion become a regular occurrence.
One of your biggest life battles will be how you spend your time. Everyday you must choose whether to spend it on people or things.
Dismantle one excuse at a time.
You may see other excuses in your life that are causing you to lack compassion. These are lies we tell ourselves that cause us to overlook the hurts of others. I want to encourage you to not feel the need to tackle all of them at one time. Just choose one and start there.
Cultivating compassion is a marathon and you will continue to see obstacles along the way. We must not give up on caring for people, because they are the very heart of God.
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