Be Compassionate just as your Father is Compassionate by Henri Nouwen
Jesus tells us:
just as your Father is compassionate.
Do not judge,
and you will not be judged;
Do not condemn,
and you will not be condemned.
and you will be forgiven.
And there will be gifts for you; a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap; because the standard you use will be the standard used for you.” (Luke 6:36-38 NJB)
How do we know that God is compassionate? Father Henri Nouwen says, “We know this because in Jesus, God’s compassion became visible to us. Jesus not only said, ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate,’ but He also was the concrete embodiment of this divine compassion in our world. Jesus’ response to the ignorant, the hungry, the blind, the lepers, the widows, and all those who came to Him with their suffering, flowed from the divine compassion which led God to become one of us. We need to pay close attention to Jesus’ words and actions if we are to gain insight into the mystery of this divine compassion. We would misunderstand the many miraculous stories in the Gospels if we were to be impressed simply by the fact that sick and tormented people were suddenly liberated from their pains. If this were indeed the central event of these stories, a cynic might rightly remark that most people during Jesus’ day were not cured and that those who were cured only made it worse for those who were not. What is important here is not the cure of the sick, but the deep compassion that moved Jesus to these cures.” (Compassion, 15-16)
But what exactly is compassion? Father Henri Nouwen says, “Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human. . . It is not surprising that compassion, understood as suffering with, often evokes in us a deep resistance and even protest. We are inclined to say, ‘This is self-flagellation, this is masochism, this is a morbid interest in pain, this is a sick desire.’ It is important for us to acknowledge this resistance and to recognise that suffering is not something we desire or to which we are attracted. On the contrary, it is something we want to avoid at all cost. Therefore, compassion is not among our most natural responses. We are pain-avoiders and we consider anyone who feels attracted to suffering abnormal, or at best very unusual.” (Compassion pg 4)
So, every one of us is challenged to be compassionate in our harsh, tough world. This is especially so for Christians. Unfortunately, many of us Christians are not compassionate. We fail miserably to live up to the expectation that the world has for Christians. We fail to make Jesus’ compassion visible in our daily lives. As Mother Teresa lamented, “Gandhi felt fascinated at knowing Christ. He met Christians, and felt let down.” (In My Own Words, 98) “Often we Christians constitute the worst obstacle for those who try to become closer to Christ; we often preach a gospel we do not live. This is the principle reason why people of the world don’t believe.” (In My Own Words, 100)
Also, people often look for compassion and comfort in the Church but many with religious authority unconsciously hurt them. How is that so? Henri Nouwen said, “People with religious authority often wound us by their words, attitudes, and demands. Precisely because our religion brings us in touch with the questions of life and death, our religious sensibilities can get hurt most easily. Ministers and priests seldom fully realise how a critical remark, a gesture of rejection, or an act of impatience can be remembered for life by those to whom it is directed.
There is such an enormous hunger for meaning in life, for comfort and consolation, for forgiveness and reconciliation, for restoration and healing, that anyone who has any authority in the Church should constantly be reminded that the best word to characterise religious authority is compassion. Let’s keep looking at Jesus, whose authority was expressed in compassion.” (Bread for the Journey, Oct 26)
How, then, do we show in practical ways, compassion to hurting individuals? There are essentially two ways in which we convey our message—One by the language of the mind and the other by the language of the heart. The language of the mind is dictated by the words (verbal) we say in English, French, Mandarin, or the dialects we speak. But the language of the heart is shown by gesture (non-verbal) and tone (extra-verbal). A gentle touch, a kind smile, a sympathetic look, a warm hug, a compassionate tone, an attentive listening, are all instances of the language of the heart. So, is our gesture warm and embracing? Are our eyes tender and caring? Is our tone stiff, cold and indifferent or gentle and full of concern? Are we harsh and impatient? Is our heart hard like stone or soft as flesh? Every one understands the language of the heart and it is more than twice as loud as the language of the mind. Many people can disguise their real message with subtle use of words but very few are able to conceal their real emotion behind the language of their heart. We therefore show our compassion through the emotional language of our heart and that is how the other person is subtly and subconsciously receiving it.
Thus, are we compassionate? Do we have what it takes to be compassionate?Do we have compassion in our hearts? Because compassion is love that willingly “suffers with” the person in pain. Maybe I need to pray: ‘Lord Jesus, make me an instrument of Your compassion,’ in order that I will, willingly, face the challenge of taking the following practical, compassionate action:
· Permit him/her to grieve over his/her pain (or suffering)
· Be patiently and fully present to his pain
· Dare to go and share his pain with him
· Enter and listen to his pain, which can be very weary and endless
· Spend time and bear his pain with him
· Stay and endure his pain with him
Above all, be patient, patient, patient, as nothing can demonstrate our compassion more clearly than being patiently present to the suffering individual.
Unfortunately, we are often only too quick to reassure in order to avoid someone’s pain. Frequently, when we offer premature advice on how to cope, we show subconsciously that we want to run away from the pain. Furthermore, by rushing with explanations, by pushing our advice, by making light of the situation and by dismissing the pain, we say much about our own need for easy closure. When we quickly try to brush aside the pain, we are of no help! So, when we barge in with such consolation, we make hurting souls into objects or projects. We forget that people are extremely sensitive during such times. And people rarely react well to our efforts to manage their response to their pain. One reason why we respond to others this way is because we are afraid of our own pain. We resist getting near the suffering of another, partly because of our own unwillingness to suffer ourselves and partly because of our insistence on our own comfort. For another person’s pain suggests to us what can also hurt us. Such reminders unsettle us. This approach seems to insulate us from the hurts and needs of others, but it ends up not helping us at all. It hardens our hearts and prevents us from showing compassion to others.
· Look away from his/her pain (or grief)
· Walk away from his pain
· Brush aside his pain
· Flinch from his pain
· Deny him his pain
· Dismiss his pain
· Avoid his pain
· Evade his pain
· Ignore his pain
· Reject his pain
Thus, Christians, with the help of Jesus in their hearts, can show how generous and noble human beings can be when they have the courage and compassion to patiently listen to and share the sufferings of others.