Multitudes of voices are speaking up all over the world, the Twitterverse, the Internet. Social media is echoing with opinions, conspiracy theories, fear, and anger. Even believers are getting caught up in the negativity. But as believers, we cannot afford to join the fray. Not unless we’re armed with the one virtue that will change people: Compassion.
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What is Compassion?
As we record this, we’re still in the midst of stay-at-home orders in the United States and in many places around the world, and people are feeling the financial, emotional, social, and psychological effects. And something specific came to my mind as Karen and I were praying about what our next podcast topic should be. At this time, when all of us should be sympathetically bonding over our mutual problems, and some of that IS happening for sure, but at the same time, there’s more disagreement than ever in our society. Politics, religion, health, the economy, you name it, we’re disagreeing over it. Often vehemently.
It’s not that disagreement is wrong. It’s good to have discussion and debate about policies, ideas, and regulations. What’s wrong is the way we’re going about it. And this doesn’t just apply to what we say or think, but also to what we write.
We’re lacking something that, as Christians and writers, we have no excuse to be lacking: compassion.
Colossians 3:12 (NIV), tells us, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”
We wanted to talk about compassion in particular because it follows up on our last podcast with our guest Karen Stiller. She talked about having compassion on ourselves as writers. But now we want to spend some time talking about compassion for others, because it affects our relationship with God, and it’s a huge factor in our writing as well.
So first, what is compassion?
Merriam Webster says it’s “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Basically, “it refers to both an understanding of another’s pain and the desire to somehow mitigate that pain.”
We’ve lost the ability, or more accurately, the desire, to truly understand another person’s point of view. To put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to consider reasons why their opinion, their thoughts, might actually be valid. We seem less willing than ever to broaden our understanding, and far more determined to entrench ourselves deeper into our own position
To be fair, our motivation may be, as the definition of compassion suggests, that we want to mitigate others’ pain, and that’s great. But we want to do it OUR way. Because we’re convinced OUR way is the RIGHT way.
That sounds pretty close to Webster’s definition of conceit: “Excessive appreciation of one’s own worth or virtue.”
The consequences of a lack of compassion
Let’s talk a few minutes about how a lack of compassion affects us. The consequences.
It Makes Us Hard-Hearted
As writers, our job is to present truth. For that, we first have to humbly learn truth. But a lack of compassion affects our heart: It’s a hard-heartedness. How can God teach us truth if our heart is hard?
How can anyone teach us if our heart is hard? How will we handle critique? How will we learn from editors and agents and other industry professionals if we aren’t open to correction?
It Makes Us Poor Listeners
A lack of compassion makes us poor listeners. There is much wisdom to be gained from the journey of others. God gives us the gift of fellowship partly for that purpose: to share knowledge. To grow from the collective experience of others. To gain insights we wouldn’t gain in our own little world. Listening to others helps broaden our understanding of the human condition.
If we don’t listen to others, how will we truly understand their needs? Have you ever gotten a gift you didn’t really like from someone because they bought it with their own opinion and taste in mind instead of yours? They thought you should have it, whether you actually wanted it or not? How did that make you feel?
We come across writing like that more often than you’d think. That’s one of the reasons writers often struggle when they’re asked what “felt needs” their writing speaks to. They’re not in tune with what readers actually want, but instead they’re focused on what they want to say to readers whether readers think they need it or not.
It Makes Us Poor Sympathizers
Lack of compassion makes us hard-hearted and poor listeners, which then makes us poor sympathizers. Sympathizing is a step beyond just listening. It’s opening ourselves to feel what someone else feels, to enter into their pain, their sorrow, their delight, or their joy. To fully share with them. When you’re sympathizing, or empathizing for that matter, you have a much better grasp on how to help them, how to meet their needs. It’s the difference between truly helping someone and completely missing the boat.
As writers and Christians, our purpose is to serve. Without compassion, we don’t feel the need. Service becomes more a thing we do out of guilt, which is the wrong reason, or we don’t do it at all. But serving is about loving people. What better example do we have than Jesus, who came as a suffering servant, and as Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”
I was listening to a sermon and the pastor said God was not only omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, but also omni-empathetic. Of course he made that word up, but I think it’s accurate. Jesus knows what we’re feeling. As Christ-followers, as imitators of Christ, how can we try to do less?
So we talked about the problems of a lack of compassion. Let’s turn the table. What does a world of compassionate people look like?
What does being more compassionate do for you?
1. Compassion makes you more Christ like.
2. Compassion leads you to pray for others as God calls us to do. And not just an obligatory prayer, but heart-felt prayers that put us better in tune with Christ’s heart.
3. If you’re writing nonfiction, Compassion helps you write in a way that makes people feel heard and understood because you DO hear and understand. You’re coming from a more vulnerable place yourself, and that helps readers connect with you. They want someone who relates to where they are and won’t judge them. If you give them compassion, they’ll follow you on the book’s journey and find the same hope you did.
4. If you’re writing fiction, compassion helps you write more multidimensional characters because you understand why they do the things they do. Your writing is at a deeper, more emotional level. It’s more nuanced, and all that combines to give the reader a stronger emotional connection, and that’s how your story can change lives.
Scriptures to reflect on and to inspire you
Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again. Psalm 78:38-39 (ESV)
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)
Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Isaiah 49:15-16 (ESV)
But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 (ESV)
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. Psalm 103:13 (ESV)
When [Jesus] saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36 (ESV)
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite. Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)
Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.” Luke 10:30-34 (ESV)
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 (ESV)
As [Jesus] drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Luke 7:12-15 (ESV)
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:9-18 (ESV)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. 1Peter 3:8
And the word of the Lord came to Zechariah, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zachariah 7:8-10
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil… 2 Timothy 2:24
Last but not least, Micah 6:8. Think on this verse as you consider your responsibility as a follower of Christ. Never forget your call to compassion. “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”Doing this costs you nothing. Not doing it could cost us all everything. #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet
we want to hear from you
How has compassion, or a lack of it, affected your life?
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