Be kind, for every person you meet is fighting a great battle. -- Unknown
My cousin Allyson is in the midst of an awful throw down fight with ovarian cancer. She’s had five rounds of chemo, multiple surgeries, pharmacies full of medicine and in the midst of staring death in the face, she’s raising her three boys.
People have seen her struggle and have responded in deep kindness. Love has poured in through letters and packages and gift cards. People bring meals, watch the kids, and consistently pray for a miracle. People pooled together and sent Allyson and her family to Disney World. And recently, my dear friends arranged an epic day at the Ranger’s ballpark with seats in the owner’s box, signed jerseys and of course, time with a compassionate and gifted left fielder.
It’s always a miracle when someone’s generosity connects with another person’s difficult reality. My family and I have experienced these miracles over and over ourselves.
This is love.
And love can push through concrete when suffering is met with kindness.
But one day, Allyson and I began to talk about why we're always nicer to people when we find out they have cancer.
Why is it that we wait until people are hurting to love fiercely?
Now, don’t get me wrong. I want every great thing in the world to happen to and for Allyson and people in similarly dark circumstances.
But why is my compassion so limited?
The truth is, I’m nicer to people when I can actually see their pain—when I know they’re under fire. When I see a wheel chair or a hospital bracelet or someone who’s just lost a kid.
When we see people in pain, when we recognize human suffering in other people, something beautiful springs up to the surface—it’s compassion. We’re hit with a strong drive to make things better, to repave a bumpy road, to ease the burden in any way we can.
Compassion is simply our soul’s response to seeing people as God sees them. We feel compelled. We sense solidarity in the suffering of someone else. Someone like us. Someone with kids or parents or a job to lose or the unknown risks of the future.
But I’m a little too picky about when I show compassion. I need to know you’re really suffering. And maybe I need to know it isn’t your fault that you’re suffering before I’ll help you out.
Why can’t we bring someone a meal when they’re healthy? Why wait until someone’s in the hospital?
I don't want my compassion to be dependent on the depth of people's pain.
What is it in me that kicks into high gear when I hear a heartbreaking story?
Why do I road rage less when I see a car with that obnoxious yellow “baby on board” sign?
I think we’re often under the assumption that most of the world doesn’t really need us to love them. Most people’s worlds aren’t overwhelming. Most people aren’t deeply hurting. Most people don’t need a break.
And this is a horribly stupid assumption.
Everyone has a story. Everyone has pain. Everyone could use an occasional dinner dropped off. Everyone needs a break.
The problem isn’t that our compassion shuts on and off. The problem is we don’t see people the way God sees them. We judge by what we can see. God sees through the minivan to the lonely fears of a single mom. We see security in a family. God sees brokenness and unbearable shame.
We all need compassionate acts of love. We all need people to speak kindly to us when we make mistakes or lay off the horn when we cut them off.
Maybe we forget we’re in it together, and none of us has the resources we need to make it through life on our own.
Compassion brings slats of light into dark corners. Compassion is the language of humanity—the active, spoken grace breaking through walls of secrecy and anguish.
Not everyone is facing devastating cancer in their thirties.
And by all means, please keep creatively loving those with visible huge, gaping wounds and unanswerable questions.
But don’t forget that the invisible pain of your next-door neighbor is real, too.
Try to actually see the people you meet at Starbucks and in the hall and at the DART station and in the inefficient checkout line at Old Navy.
If we can see people, the soul-response of compassion gets the loudest voice.
We can’t love as Jesus loves if we can’t see as Jesus sees.
The more the eyes of Jesus become our eyes, the more the actions of Jesus become ours as well.
Open your eyes. Love creatively. Live compassionately.