When Compassion Cuts Through the Mess

A few months ago, a friend texted me and asked me to call her when I was ready to go to bed.  Honestly, I was hesitant.  She and I had been having some good but difficult conversations, not to mention I was personally in a bit of an emotional slump.  I was not excited about the possibility of stirring up uncomfortable thoughts and feelings right before I tried to sleep.

Still, I called, all the while mentally steeling myself for what she might have to say.  However, when she picked up, she eagerly explained, “I want to read to you before you go to bed!”  Immediately, her simple desire cut through all of my emotional mess and all of the disquiet in our recent conversations, and it touched me.  It didn’t get rid of the mess or our need for further discussion, but there wasn’t any way she could do that (and that wasn’t her point).  Instead, her action found a way through all of that and connected to a part of me I’d been shielding.  At the same time, it reinforced the sweetness and support that defines our friendship.

I’m grateful to be able to say this is not the only time I’ve experienced this type of compassion in the past months–or even weeks.  For example, after the church service one Sunday, I asked my pastor if we could set a time to talk.  It really wasn’t a good time for me to ask him, but he briefly discussed schedules with me nonetheless.  Before I walked away and he turned his attention towards his many obligations, he took a moment to look directly at me and ask, “Are you ok?”  There wasn’t anything I absolutely needed to talk about right away, but it meant so much not just that he asked, but that he knew me enough to ask in the first place.  For that moment, I felt like me–not my issues, not the put-together me most people see, but me.

This Christmas season is so stressful.  We all have so much to do, so many emotions flying around, so many expectations we’re trying to live up to (including our own).  It’s easy to forget who we are, who the people around us are, and what we are to each other.  What can we do–you and me–to show care and compassion in a way that connects others with who they really are?  How can we help them remember and, at the same time, remind ourselves?

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When Christmas Gets Real (Sojourners)
The Idolatry of God by Peter Rollins (book review)

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