A Tale of Two Accidents: When Guilt and Compassion Collide

Yesterday on my ride into work I was involved in two accidents. Yes, a mere three days after preaching about the way in which Moses and God got “diverted together,” I found myself getting diverted from my normal path. While one of these accidents directly impacted me (and my car), the second has impacted me all the more (and my thinking).

It happened really quick. I had just merged into my lane on the Grady curve when BAM a guy hit me from behind. As I looked in the rear-view mirror I could see him with hands in his face. As we’ve made our way over to the side and he saw me and all my clerical glory (I was wearing my collar), his hands immediately went to his face and he was apologetic. “I could not stop,” he said.

After a few more pleasantries, he continued, “Can I just be honest? I just don’t know what it is. I need to get to my new job this morning before they fire me. I lost my old job yesterday. I just moved down here to do school at Clark Atlanta, but nothing in my life seems to be going right. It just sucks.” And then, as if someone had cut on the shower, the emotions showed up in full force.

My bumper was a little scratched, his hood a little more. But in that instance, I realized that the despair in Jeremy’s voice was the antithesis of the voice of the gardener in Jesus’ parable from Luke. In fact, I might go so far as to say if the gardener embodied compassion for a fruitless tree, or if the gardener represented the voice of patience in the face of long suffering and bareness, then maybe just maybe an offering of just such a thing to Jeremy could make all the difference.

“Let’s just exchange details and we’ll go from there,” I offered. “Really?” he cried. “Let’s go to work.” It was finished.

15 minutes later approaching my final turn to Holy Innocents, I came upon another accident. This time between three teenagers. I’m not clear who was at fault, and it doesn’t really matter. As all three of the kids talking to their parents there was that mix of “yes we’re OK,” and “I’’m going to be fine.” But at some point the conversation shifted from the “we’re OK,” to a “I’m so sorry.”

Now we probably all know that feeling, that sense of apologizing when things go wrong. But the truth is, until that very moment I never realized that one is never taught to feel guilty when bad things happen to them. It just happens. Something goes wrong, something bad occurs, and as if by some carnal reflex, we feel guilty even if the thing that happened had absolutely nothing to do with us. Weird, right?

At the end of the day, all of the kids were OK. Yet it struck me upon reflection: was a little bit of compassion for self out of the question? Why is it really that when bad things happen to us, we often feel less compassion for self and more guilt? Why is it that when life doesn’t go quite as we aspired, it can feel like the whole thing is spinning out of control?

Jesus said, “the greatest commandment is this: to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. And the second is this: to love your neighbor as you love yourself.” As you love yourself.

As you love yourself.

As you love yourself.

Oh that we might all remember that the heart of the second greatest commandment is that we learn to love and show compassion for ourselves in all things FIRST! Maybe if we can just start there (or maybe if I can just start there) our capacity to demonstrate compassion to others will increase.

As I turned into the church to officially start the day Coldplay’s new song Up&Up came on. It proclaimed:

Fixing up a car to drive in it again
Searching for the water, hoping for the rain
Up and up
Up and up

May your embrace of compassion for yourself (and then others) lead you to a place where you discover what it is to be on the Up&Up, even when everything is screaming that life should be on the Down&Out. And be patient my friends, sometimes it takes a while for it all to come together.

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