Compassion: An honest look at a commonly used word (life changing!)

Brene’ Brown is one of my favorite social workers.  I come back to her work from time to time to study professionally and personally.  Recently a friend sent me a link to her book The Gifts of Imperfection to download on Kindle.  So glad she remembered me!  I’m stuck on page 15 of my Kindle book.  Compassion.

We all grow up learning manners and the importance of being nice and kind.  If you grew up in the church, you were taught to serve others with the love of Christ.  One of my favorite examples of this kind of service is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  What happens, though, when you find yourself imperfect in compassion?  Did you fail? Or, maybe, missed the lesson on how to persevere when you are depleted?  I’ve personally struggled on this roller coaster ride of “got this!” and “don’t got this!” for years.  What is the answer?

Let’s take a closer look at the origin of the word compassion.

The word compassion is derived from the Latin words pati and cum meaning “to suffer with.”  I don’t believe that compassion is our default response.  I think our first response to pain-ours or someone else’s -is to self-protect.  We protect ourselves by looking for someone or something to blame.  Or sometimes we shield ourselves by turning to judgment or by immediately going into fix-it mode.  Brene’ Brown

Brene’ goes on to share her research of other spiritual seekers that

In cultivating compassion we draw from the wholeness of our experience-our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror.  It has to be this way.  Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals.  Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

Compassion is not a call to perfection or putting yourself in the position of healer.  That’s God’s job.  He is perfect, and He is our healer.

What does that look like for you personally?  For me, it’s entering into the suffering of my spouse or children with my gifts of imperfection, but I’m there, doing the best I can in that moment.  It’s being willing to say, “I messed up–my “cruelty and terror” got the best of me, forgive me?”  It’s asking God to show you what to do and what to say.  It’s forgiving yourself when you mess up.  Like it or not, we are all capable of “cruelty and terror”.  It’s okay.  You are human.  Why is it so important to embrace this?  If we realize our humanity within compassion, perhaps we would “enter in” more often, and love ourselves more completely.  God calls you to love yourself in order to have the strength and passion to love others.  “…to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Letters from Mother Teresa surfaced after her death that showed this same struggle–

She wrote to her spiritual director, “My own soul remains in deep darkness and desolation.”

It’s what Christians call “the dark night of the soul”.  Compassion is not possible in its purist form until we accept the darkness and realize that it’s part of our journey.  In a profound and marvelous experience, the darkness draws us more to a Holy union with The Light–God himself.  No greater love was shown than Jesus in His darkest moment–the cross; yet, it was in this darkness that the greatest miracle happened–His resurrection and our eternal hope.

Hebrews 12:2

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.

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