Compassion is more than just a fancy word

Compassion. This is a word that is not foreign to any of us. We know what it means, or at least we think we know what it means. The word compassion comes from the Latin word compati which means "to suffer with." This means that if you have compassion on someone, then you are there suffering with them. Not from a distance or by throwing money at a cause, but right there with them. This makes compassion personal, real, difficult at times.

As I write this my oldest daughter is in the hospital in Winston-Salem getting treatment for a pretty nasty flare up of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA). As I've watched her struggle through pain this weekend, it's been necessary to muster all the compassion that I can for her. Not because I don't care, but rather because I personally don't have JRA and I often don't know how to suffer with her. Yes, I can show sympathy and tell her that I care, but compassion is more than that. It's intensely personal.

Simply put, compassion is more than words. It's a coming alongside of someone and connecting with them through ugly situations in their life. It's getting dirty and not worrying about how bad the stains you receive are going to be and if they will wash out. Compassion has more to do with being unable to go any further until you've done all that you can do to meet a need. It stops you in your tracks and won't allow you to look the other way.

In Matthew 14, Jesus had compassion on a large crowd that had gathered to hear Him preach. His concern for these men and women was that they had been there with Him all day in a desolate place where there was no food for them to eat. It wasn't like they could call Domino's and order a pizza. Jesus' disciples saw what was happening and suggested that He send the people away to their own homes so that they could grab a bite to eat before it got too late, but Jesus had other things in mind. To Jesus, compassion meant owning the suffering of others, not merely offering a solution. Instead of giving this crowd good advice, He gave them something to eat. In that moment, He fed over 5,000 people with only two fish and five loaves of bread. Jesus could have sent them home. Instead, He gave all that He could give.

Look around you. How many needs do you see on a daily basis? Have you ever thought, "Man, I hope those people get the help they need"? Or maybe you've said something like, "I'm praying for you and I'm here if you need me." None of these things are inherently wrong, but they also aren't compassion unless we do what we can to meet those needs.

Compassion could be quitting your job and relocating to a low income neighborhood to run an after school center for troubled kids. Compassion might be sitting for hours with a grieving friend as they mourn the loss of loved one, crying with them and listening to their pain. Compassion is pulling alongside a student whose parents don't invest in him and giving him guidance and encouragement so that he can believe in himself and succeed. And compassion is what keeps you up at night, unable to sleep until you have figured out a way to meet the financial need of a neighbor who just lost her job.

But how much can I really do? I mean, I don't have much money to give and I've got a family of my own to care for! Those are honest concerns, yet compassion goes beyond them because compassion doesn't merely ask what can I do, but rather compassion asks, "What am I WILLING to do?" It's not how much you give but rather your willingness to give in the first place.

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