by Kelcey R. …
Right now, I am sitting on my couch while an “I Love Lucy” rerun plays in the background. Here and there, my laugh punctuates the low volume of the TV, and the silence of an otherwise quiet night. It’s a nice moment. However, if all someone saw was the snapshot of this moment I am in, it would be leaving out the other roughly 10,920 days of my life. What I don’t share often is that half of those days have been freckled with nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, and other symptoms of ptsd. The snapshot wouldn’t be able to show that I spent a lot of those days, months, and years trying to white knuckle my way through grief and anger, before I learned how much more able Jesus is to carry those things for me.
This week was a hard week, if you watched the news at all. I’m not going to discuss politics here, but I am going to discuss compassion, and what I have learned about it through my own experiences.
I am a survivor of sexual abuse and rape. I know what it is to experience that level of devastation, to feel like your body is a prison you can’t escape. The weight of fear and shame still knocks me down at times, and the years I spent listening to the sound of silence from that shame was deafening. I know what it feels like to see someone that hurt you continue on for a decade in a place of leadership. I know what it feels like to doubt God and to question His very existence, to feel dirty and broken. I know how it feels to finally muster the courage to speak up, to say the truth in order to prevent others from getting hurt, and sadly, I know what it feels like to not be believed.
It’s easy to assume we know all about a situation based on how those things are portrayed or shared. We can build so much of a case and opinion on a small, sometimes twisted version of the truth, creating a kindling that can quickly give way to wildfire; wildfire that grows with the emotions we feed it, when instead we ought to be searching for truth like water to calm the flames.
There have been people who met me with compassion during the few times I’ve shared what my cumulative experiences were. People who prayed with me, and for me, and reminded me that Jesus wept with me and loved me. Those are the people who continuously love me and those around them the way Jesus did, and calls us to. They loved beyond their knee jerk reactions, beyond their initial responses. People who saw my hurt, and sat with me in it.
Jesus used the compassion of others to speak truth into my very broken heart; compassion was the vessel that God used to deliver me from bondage, and bring me into a place of healing. I used to be a person without hope, buried under the weight of suicidal ideation, hospital stays, and darkness that was perpetuated by my belief that I wasn’t worthy of love or grace from anyone, including my husband. I am so thankful that God kept pursuing me, that He brought me to Him, even when I tried to run away so many times. I am so thankful that I have been given the privilege to learn more about His character by the compassion I experienced from others.
There is something so hard, though, about finally experiencing true Godly love and compassion, and then realizing that we live in a culture that is an absolute battlefield, where words are used as weapons so much more often than they are used as a balm for the soul. We do not need every detail of every circumstance to love people. None of us need to know the details of someones life in order to treat them with compassion. This is a hard truth that I have to confront daily, where I have fallen short so many times, and I have to constantly choose love over selfish anger. Anger is easy, convenient. Love can be exhausting to give, and feel like a wasted effort, but as C.S. Lewis said,
Love is never wasted, for it’s value does not rest upon reciprocity.
The meaning of compassion is to recognize the suffering of others, then take action to help. The Bible defines the meaning of compassion in quite a few ways. We are to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).
On December 24th, 1914, C.H. Spurgeon gave a sermon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle that just blows me away. He said this:
“He (Jesus) was moved with compassion.”- Mat 9:36
THIS is said of Christ Jesus several times in the New Testament. The original word is a very remarkable one. It is not found in classic Greek. It is not found in the Septuagint. The fact is, it was a word coined by the evangelists themselves. They did not find one in the whole Greek language that suited their purpose, and therefore they had to make one. It is expressive of the deepest emotion; a striving of the bowels-a yearning of the innermost nature with pity. As the dictionaries tell us- Ex intimis visceribus misericordia commoveor. I suppose that when our Saviour looked upon certain sights, those who watched him closely perceived that his internal agitation was very great, his emotions were very deep, and then his face betrayed it, his eyes gushed like founts with tears, and you saw that his big heart was ready to burst with pity for the sorrow upon which his eyes were gazing. He was moved with compassion. His whole nature was agitated with commiseration for the sufferers before him.
True compassion changes the way we live.
When Jesus heard about his close friend and relative John the Baptist being beheaded, the Bible doesn’t say that Jesus stormed King Herod’s castle, or yelled and cursed those around him with harsh words in his grief. This is what the Bible says about his response to really, really hard news:
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matthew 14.13-14)
He chose to love others and be gracious to them, even in his overwhelming heartache. When Jesus was on trial and was being falsely accused, he did not yell, or even verbally respond during most of the questioning. He was silent. He knew that speaking at that time would avail nothing, and allowed those questioning him to be angry, even though he was the son of God, and could have silenced them in a moment:
But even so their evidence conflicted. So the High Priest himself got up and took the centre of the floor. “Have you no answer to make?” he asked Jesus. “What about all this evidence against you?” But Jesus remained silent and offered no reply. (Mark 14.59-61)
That’s a kind of boldness I want to have, to be so confident in what is loving, just and true that silence becomes an option in the right circumstance; that I don’t need to constantly try and prove anything with my words, because God is our judge; He knows all and sees all. There is tremendous peace in that.
It is so easy to give into anger, perhaps more-so now than ever. We live in an onslaught of constant information, a swirling sea of opinions and perspectives, with shields in the form of screens to hide behind while we launch grenades at one another with our words. Not just in main stream news, but in our day to day interactions with others.
I struggle with anger daily, and not just anger stemming from sexual abuse. It is almost second nature to many people, myself included, to form huge opinions after only knowing a small part (true or not) of a story, and it can be extremely difficult for us as a society and as individual humans to scale back, set our emotions and all of our “needing to be right” to the side. What if we were pause briefly and ask, “How can I be compassionate in this moment?” Or even, “Based on what I know is true in scripture, how can I respond accordingly?”
Compassion is a radical response to anger. It’s a response that culture tells us is passive, rather than passionate.
Compassion calls us to love the person in front of us first, rather than only defending ourselves. We see radical compassion from Jesus in Mark 11, down to the way Jesus demonstrates His anger in the temple. Not only did he overturn tables of money and set livestock loose, but if you look closer at Mark 11:15, Jesus specifically points out that authorities were preying on poor widows, and dove sellers were taking advantage of the doves poor people, including women, had sacrificed who could not afford something grander. Jesus had such compassion on those being wronged that it caused him to move, to act boldly.
There are times that righteous anger is appropriate, and called for. There are times where it is appropriate to say nothing. There are times where it is appropriate to withdraw. We live in a fallen world, where sin and hurt affect each and every one of us. Knowing that, we can choose to either feed the fire, or pour truth and compassion into the smoke; to be rebellious in the eyes of our society and love those struggling in the flames, even if it costs us greatly.
I am humbled by those that sat with me in the fire, despite the risk they faced of being burned themselves. That type of bold and selfless love is how I want to live my life going forward. I have a lot of work and healing to do yet, but I hope I end up loving others in the radical way that Jesus loves me.