God Made Visible
As a nurse and pastor’s wife, I’ve had many opportunities to extend compassion to those in need. In addition, I’ve lived for almost 30 years with a chronic condition of my own. But lately I’ve been engaged in another nitty-gritty, rubber-meets-the-road exploration of “What is compassion?” as the result of a grueling, 25-month-long treatment for what’s known as Lyme Disease.
Being counted among the afflicted has given me a plethora of opportunities to experience true compassion from others—those who pause in their own lives to engage with my needs in ways that uniquely recognize and acknowledge me.
They might have known what to offer to communicate that I am loved (my favorite: dark chocolate); or they might simply have responded to the promptings of God, who indeed knows me. (I remember when one friend offered a foot massage, not knowing that just hours before I’d been crying out to God about my loneliness, wishing someone were there to massage my feet.)
Our Creator expresses Himself beautifully and oh so specifically to our situations.
Yet, being counted among the afflicted has also meant that I’m on the receiving end of a goodly degree of platitudes and thoughtlessness, sometimes even coming in a wash of Bible verses (Romans 8:28, Matthew 6:25-34 and 7:7-11, and more).
Now, they are good verses. After all, God never inspired a bad verse, not even one. These words are gold nuggets refined in flames, precious; they are not to be tossed out injudiciously, pelting those who sit on life’s roadside.
When this happens, I inwardly cringe, silently crying, You have no idea how many times, days, months, years I have wrestled with those very verses. I have sat on them, wept over them, chewed on them—swallowed them piece by piece with my parched throat. I have wrestled day and night with God over them, asking for His Word to be my lifeline.
Outwardly, I simply smile and say thank you.
Compassion expressed with Scripture is most appropriate when the messenger delivers it without rush and wraps it in the warmth of relationship. In true compassion, the nonverbal messages are important as well: making steady eye contact, leaning in, extending physical contact when appropriate.
From both Scripture and the dictionary, I’ve gleaned differences between compassion and platitudes. Dictionary.com reports that a platitude is “a flat, dull, or trite remark, especially one uttered as if it were fresh or profound.” And compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”
With compassion, we care more to lighten someone else’s load than to alleviate our own awkwardness in the face of their suffering. And compassion takes time. At times it’s active (offering to find resources); other times it just sits quietly.
My experiences, both personal and professional, have led me to search Scripture for Jesus’ model of compassion. This study has brought me to the Book of Matthew, where I’ve learned that Jesus addressed people’s physical needs (which many times opened the way to addressing spiritual needs); and that He asked questions, spent time alone in prayer, paused to give people His attention and simply rested.
As I’ve begun to adopt these principles into my own ministry of compassion, I find I am more intentional and not as rushed. There are many afflicted around us; God is not necessarily calling us to all, all at once.
It is OK for me to rest—both physically and in the knowledge that He will show me whom I am to minister to and how. Meanwhile, it is essential that I spend time with Him, learning from Him through His Word and being directed by His Holy Spirit. Rested, and resting in Him.
I like to say that biblical compassion is actually three-dimensional, because it helps the afflicted grasp that God is there with them, that He bends low to meet them, full of mercy (see Luke 10:36-37 and 19:10; Genesis 16:3; Psalm 34:15; 1 Peter 1:3). This outpouring of God’s presence through our mercy speaks volumes—both to believers in the church family and to those looking on, as they watch how the believers love and care for each other (Galatians 6:9-10).
What a glorious assignment: to be the Church of compassion, as in Acts 5:14-16, when people from across Jerusalem and even its outskirts carried their sick out to the streets, hoping for a compassionate healing like ones they’d seen among the believers.
How would such intentional biblical compassion revolutionize our body, our community and beyond?
As you interact with those experiencing visible or invisible pain, may your personalized compassion reveal God’s presence.