Spiritual Disciplines: Compassion
Every two weeks we are sharing a spiritual discipline to try together. We will have a time for sharing about it at the small group on Tuesdays evenings. But if you aren't up for the small group, you can also just follow along here and practice the disciplines on your own.
Jesus often spoke about having compassion for the people and, of course, showed compassion to outsiders and outcasts: beggars, foreigners, women, prostitutes, people with contagious diseases, tax collectors.
In almost all of the instances where he used the word compassion, or the word compassion is used to describe his actions, the original greek word is splagnchizomai (good luck, saying that out loud...I am reminded by John that no one knows what ancient greek sounded like anymore so it is okay however it comes out.) This greek word is literally translated as being moved by one's inward parts. It has a sense of a physical ache to help especially in the "nobler entrails" of the lungs, liver, and kidneys.
I have felt that physical ache. I remember one day talking to my daughter and she said that she had had an accident at school and felt so embarrassed. She started crying. I felt that in my inward parts, that really almost physical pull to want to help free her of that shame. That's compassion. It's not pity, which is more like feeling sorrow. Compassion, I think you could argue, is not in the heart, it is in the stomach. It drives us towards action.
Your practice could be noticing when and towards whom you feel that inward pull, that call from Jesus for us to have concern for the suffering of others. Or it could be cultivating that feeling towards people that it's generally acceptable to not like, looking beyond strangeness and awkwardness and different language and traditions and all the other barriers that come between us to find the truth that we are all in some ways little children in need of love.
Bring to mind someone who you know is struggling right now. Try to think about their experience in as much detail as possible from their perspective. What is it like for them? What might they be thinking and feeling? Draw on this meditation to show compassion to them directly or indirectly.
Choose one way that you can show compassion to someone you like over these next two weeks. Choose one way that you can show compassion to someone you find hard to like. Write or talk with someone else about what these experiences were like for you.
Write up a list of everyone who helps you or whose services you receive. Next to each name, think about the needs you know they have. Spend some time in prayer over this list.
Compassion for ourselves can be more challenging, for some of us, than compassion towards others. Think about times in your life where others have shown you compassion. If they were here with you now, how would they show you compassion today? What do you need? How can you make space for that for yourself?
Ask someone who interacts regularly with you and others to respond honestly to these questions: What is it like to spend time with me? How do I come across? Do I show an interest in others? Journal about what you hear.
I have compassion toward these people. (Matthew 15:32)