3 Ways to Grow in Compassion

Compassion - sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.

I’m often trying to talk myself down from the overblown reactions in my head upon learning the idiotic decision another person has made and it’s impact on my tiny circle of life on this planet. Generally speaking, people are frustrating. Like stopping at a yield sign frustrating. Like a full grocery cart in the express check out line frustrating. Like not getting out of bounds to stop the clock frustrating. Breathe, Jeff. Breathe.

So why? Why are people so frustrating? The answer I offer is actually not about people’s actions as much as it is about my attitude. I am frustrating. I don’t rinse my dishes. I drive like I’m always being chased by the cops. I once was pulled over for speeding. When the officer approached my window his face was red and his whole body was shaking. In an awkward high pitch voice with a Southern accent he forced these words out, “SON! That is some of the worst driving I have ever seen! Weaving in and out! (as he is making gestures to illustrate said driving) IN AND OUT!” I know I can cause frustration.

I have also caused great pain in my short life. Selfish decisions coupled with blind ambition result in self-destruction. And it’s never the selfish decision maker who has to clean up the shrapnel. That job is for those closest to the one exploding.

It can be difficult to offer compassion towards those whose behavior is frustrating or painful. However, I think about how frustrating I can be and all those who have been compassionate towards me. My betrayals and iniquities are too many to count. Yet, I find compassion in the eyes of friends, mentors, family, and my wife. Compassion is the hope we have to offer. It is the way we are meant to respond.

1. Ask More Questions

Children posses far more compassionate qualities simply by being more curious. Their curiosity and wonder leads them to deeper understandings and empathy. My youngest daughter is incredibly curious. She asks a ton of questions. She wonders about everything. And I want to encourage that wondering. My son likes to answer her questions with whatever response will irritate her. He is thinking more about his own satisfaction and has yet to embrace the art of listening through compassion. We do this. We give away barely thought-through answers to questions we are just too busy to wonder about. To be compassionate we must ask more questions. We must explore, dig, mine, and become interested in the process.

2. Reserve Judgement

Like the first point, this second action is not natural. We are quick to draw conclusions. It’s a survival tactic. Shoot at noise in the bushes before it has a chance to pounce. That seems like a successful strategy until the noise reveals itself to be an angry hunting buddy. We might find lower blood pressure levels and less stress induced anxiety when we reserve judgement. Once we have put ourselves in the accused position, the perspective appears altered. The movie Crash, continues to be one of my favorite films exposing the human condition. The fathers’ love for their daughters is buried beneath prejudice and pride. Animalistic instincts to kill or be killed was never part of our original design. That is a learned behavior as we slowly siphon out the compassionate empathy imprinted inside our hearts.

Crash (2004, Lionsgate Films)

3. Own Your Junk

My kids are extraordinary at selling each other out. They excel at blame. I am teaching them to own their part of the conflict. It’s hard. They don’t want to acknowledge the role they play. I don’t particularly like acknowledging the role I play in conflict either. I am learning to own my junk and I desire for my offspring to benefit from this. The Gospel of Matthew has a great teaching for this…

3 “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? 4 How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?5 Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” — Matthew 7:3–5

Ouch! I forget this so easily. I think a lot of us do. I try and think about how much time I spend on solving other people’s problems. Then I imagine how far I could have progressed on dealing with my own junk during that time. It’s tempting because our eyes are focused outward. We see people physically easier than we see ourselves. If “selfies” exposed more of our flaws and faults Instagram would collapse beneath itself. Some might argue that the photos reveal more than we care to admit. Are we aware? Do we care to know? What junk is ours? How do we own it?

My tendency is to act in a way that exposes why someone does not deserve compassion or kindness. God help me. Oh, how I have been the recipient of undeserved compassion time and time again. Lead us to compassion.

“The heartfelt compassion that hastens forgiveness matures when we discover why our enemy cries.” -Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

“How I deal with ordinary people in their ordinary unbelief on an ordinary day will speak the truth of who I am more poignantly than the pro-life sticker on the bumper of my car.” -Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child

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