November 15, 2011

Spiritual Disciplines XXXV: Compassion

American Soldiers Treating A Veitcong (1967)
Photo: Philip Jones Griffiths

Compassion Deserved & Undeserved

Compassion is often given for those suffering over loss and or failure that had little of nothing to do with their actions either way. Even in cases where people knowingly messed things up, compassion is appropriate. The case in point that I am thinking of is my children and children in general. Many could learn to be more compassionate people too. I myself was a mean jerk for a long time but as the grace of God became obvious to me I felt I need to extend the grace given to me to others.

There is a limit though to human grace and my grace in particular. I realize we are to continue to extend forgiveness to people. Along the same lines, my compassion and an ability to understand that humans are flawed beings prone to wander and swing wide of the mark pushes me to have more patience. As everyone knows, patience runs thin and often runs out. When people have been warned repeatedly to stop a behavior that is harming them and they don’t, even compassion runs thin too. A pattern of flawed behavior that once afforded an individual some compassion…eventually may only garner distain if they do not learn their lesson and change course to correct things. When people willingly walk into trouble after repeatedly being warned, it’s hard to feel sorry for them but yet we are still called to try (seventy times seven folks).

Emotionally Needy & Dysfunctional People

Emotionally needy people are often hard to deal with and over time I have come to understand this does not make them less of a person it just makes them a different person from me. I do not like being dependent on anything or anyone but as time has progressed I do at least admit that I need God and am quite dependent on Him. Many would see this as a sign of weakness. It is not, it is a sign of obedience.

Dysfunctional people are another story all together. I am very reluctant to call anyone dysfunctional. We all to a greater or lesser extent are dysfunctional and if we do not recognize this fact we are in serious trouble. There is a good chance the very same people that do not recognize their dysfunctional nature are prideful and not willing to admit they are the sinners that they really are. There is a lack of humbleness going on in people like this that will eventually cause them to stumble and fall in the long run anyway. The problem at this point in time is they just haven’t realized this fact. It’s a long way to the bottom when your head is in the clouds.

Too Hard On One's Self

I used to be a mean person. I am still a sinner but I pray that I am no longer mean. Knowing how messed up I was sometimes makes it hard to be easy on myself. Andy’s harshest critic is Andy. But I must move forward from my past understanding that God forgave me so I should forgive myself. I know God gives man grace and we are called to be gracious to others but being gracious to one’s self feels strangely akin to selfishness and being self-centered. I suppose that if I have already put God first and my priorities are arranged correctly in life it is okay to go easier on one’s self and show a little compassion to one’s self. It only becomes dangerous when someone stops being humble and begins to self-glorify.

The "People Just Need To Work Harder to Succeed" Fallacy

The attitude, especially in America that people just need to work harder to get ahead is a unfair and a damaging fallacy. God is sovereign and if He wants you to have a normal life and not “get ahead” by worldly standards, you won’t. The idea of American individualism is over overhyped and played up. It is a manufactured ideal that only holds true for some people, not all. I do believe that toiling to get a job done is biblical but the idea that more work and effort will always equate to a perfect life and success is like the Word of Faith movement. It’s as if we put the world’s idea of success above the truth of the Bible. If we just say it and pray it God has to do what we ask right? Wrong. There are no guaranteed equations or paths to success in this life. The bible promised blessings for obedience but it never said that we would necessarily receive them in this life, especially in a monetary or materialistic form. This expectation of “easy outcome” when we pray for financial stability, love, good health, robust lives unencumbered by fights and squabbles is usually a pipe dream. Another figment of mostly imagination manufactured by the culture and by health and wealth prosperity preachers and motivational speakers. When the belief fails in these bad theologies the relationships based on those mindsets then begin to fail also because they were all illusions. The root of the failure is that those that believe it believe they can just order God around with prayer when in reality prayer is to get them aligned to Jesus…just the opposite. This in turn does not allow these people to mature. They feel there is nothing for them to change, God can work around them. Anyone that has actually read the Bible knows this is just a form of self-idolatry. You end up making yourself the idol. Only what you care about matters. This is inherently selfish and it will spell the demise of relationships which need just the opposite of selfishness, they need love, understanding and compassion for others. These are items sorely lacking from rugged individualistic, work harder not smarter mentality. I can’t tell you how many divorces I have seen because of this screw-up in priorities and moral obligation. Tis a shame.

Compassion Shown From Others

Compassion shown from others shows they care. It shows they are human like me. It shows me they have a chance to be a good Christian if they are not already. It shows me God has already given them something that will give them a proclivity for being Christ-like. These are the people I tend to look for first in a crowd. It is as if, through common grace, God has already turned the soil in the field ahead of me so when I walk through with the seed of the Gospel, the soil is already fertile and ready for planting. A farmer needs to recognize what land is ready for planting, which needs to remain fallow and which one’s are dead and plant accordingly to this information. The Bible said that the Sower would sometimes throw seeds on hard-packed rocky soil but a good sower recognizes that the soil is hardpacked and either turns the soil or waits until someone does. Otherwise the seed never germinates. We are not to be indiscriminate blind sowers of seed, we are to be cognizant of our purpose and our job and use discernment and discretion. We only have so much time before the first frost and the time of the harvest.

Compassionate responses are a good thing. It does not show weakness to manifest this trait. It does not make people weak-kneed and/or effeminate if they are men. To show compassion to other people, it shows that a person is human. It also shows a piece of holiness and an attirbute of God. Jesus was compassionate with I also. Whether people (especially men) want to admit it or not, to be human is to acknowledge one's weaknesses and foibles anyway. To do less is to live in denial or to decieve yourself.

Because you aren't foolin' anybody else...

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