..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Friday, July 27, 2007

Developing Deep Compassion in Dire Days

Developing Deep Compassion in Dire Days

This morning I woke up and knew that God
was calling me to a deeper compassion,
a down in the dirt, fully engaged, robust
kind of compassion.

The call came just as I awoke, warm and snug
in the comfort of the bed. Life imitates
spiritual life lately. Ok, out of the bed of
comfort, I get it!

I am quite sure we don’t really get to where
we need to be with the Lord, don’t really feel
the depths of life until we are willing to let
things move us deeply, all the way to our deepest
inner foundations. We need to let heart-stirring,
even heartbreaking things into the innermost
caverns of our heart.

How do we get past the superficial kind of
caring so often seen, to a compassion with
real meat on its bones, a compassion that
is deeply born out of recognizing our own
deepest needs and treating those same needs
with great gentleness when we find them in

As I write this, I am staying in central
England, where flood waters have devastated
neighboring towns. Outside,there is so much
loss, so much destruction, so much need.
Coupled with my own current batch of emotional
flooding, its hard to feel open to further doses
of pain, uncertainty and loss. Inside things are
no less intense.

On the news they show aerial shots of large sections
of land completely underwater. From a distance,
there is a certain perspective, things look almost
uninhabited, or have a certain placidity to them.
Most of us are familiar with Bette Midler’s poignant
song, “From a Distance.” It talks about how
everything looks ok from a distance: harmonious,
hopeful, peaceful and good. It tells us God is
watching us “from a distance” and from His far
perspective the pain on earth is really manageable.

I love the tune, but I don’t at all agree with
the words.

God is not really watching us from a distance.
Although invisible, He is closer to us then we
are to each other. He is not hiding in a closet
with His Heart shut. Nor does He call us into
a closet to shut ourselves off and close
our hearts. Even if our call is a more solitary
one, it is a call to share deeply in the
fellowship of His sufferings. God’s call does
not bring us to a place of placidity and
isolation, “far from the madding crowd”,
but to the center of His heart and His
purposes which are earthshatteringly safe
but not easy as humans count easy. He is ever
about wandering about in the mud looking for
that last lost sheep.

We have different callings, but we are called
to the same high level of pouring ourselves
out. If you find yourself called to a bustling,
active life there is incredible opportunity
to open the doors of your heart to a deeper
experience of compassion for you will be more
often in the marketplace and the roadways where
acute tragedy happens firsthand .

If you are called to a more solitary place you
will still have ample opportunity to enter deeply
into the fellowship of His sufferings for the
sake of others. For until we know the depths of
God’s compassion to us, and this is found
in the "called apart" times we spend before Him,
with what shall we impart compassion to others?

In the story of the “good Samaritan” (Luke 10:30ff)
we can see, if we look, that there are two sides of
the coin of compassion. First, there is the physical
acute care by the Samaritan who finds an externally
beaten man on the side of the road and tends to his
outer wounds.

Secondly, but of no less importance, there is the
internal and ongoing provision (care at the inn)
made for the restoring of the beaten man’s battered
emotions and soul to health . For if there has been
been great external trauma there is likely an
accompanying internal trauma. Our individual call to
compassion can be to one or both of those healings.

Do you ever wonder how God, sitting in perfection
and peace, can feel the sufferings of the whole
world and actually engage with them? I’ll be the
first one to tell you that I haven’t gotten that
all that theologized out yet. What I will tell
you that in my moments of pain and need I
experientially know for sure that God is
completely with me, and is touched by my
fragile condition.

I don’t feel that He is pulled down into it,
or overwhelmed by it, or put off by it. He
does not say, as we often do, “She is having
a bad time of it, and I don’t want to get
involved. I will come back at a more opportune
time.“ If He did, we would never find our
way out of our dismal states.

I know in my own experience that entering
into the suffering of another can be a
challenge not because I don’t care but because
I’m not always sure how to care or how much
to care. I also am afraid that my attempt
at caring, if bungled, will cause further
trauma to either me or the person I am
trying to care for. It is a problem
of measure, perhaps a problem of me measuring
too much. I think, too, that this uncertainty
is caused to some degree because I do not let
myself be completely undone by my OWN need for

Very recently I was feeling compassion for
someone with the usual mixed emotions of not
knowing what to do, when I felt a wave of
God’s compassion directed at me sweep
over me! That seemed to bring me to a place
I had not expected. I’m still pondering
its impact.

God can pour out love to everyone as needed
without worrying about measuring because
His supply is infinite and He is not threatened
with lack or loss. God’s comfort and peace are
also not threatened and because of this, He is
able to offer us stable, healing Love.
God, take me to that place!

I think, however, that in the cross of Christ,
God’s comfort and peace was, in a sense,
not only threatened, but tested. If ever God
were to withdraw Himself, it would have
been then. There was actually a season, in time
and space, when God was especially NOT
watching from a distance and that His own
innocent Son lay dying at the hands of men.

In that moment God continued to have
compassion, perhaps in some incredible way,
even expanded His art of having compassion
on us. It is that kind of compassion
that I want to lay hold of.

For me, and this is my confession, it is easier
to have compassion for someone who has not
hurt me in some way. It is also easier to
have compassion for someone that I perceive
is just a victim of circumstances and
didn’t cause their own mess by stupidly mucking
up their own life. The thing is, who hasn't radically
mucked up their own life? I’m sorry I can’t give you
a better report about the magnanimity of my inner
state, but I do hear God calling me to a higher place,
so I am prepared, as I hope you are, to go forward
without pretense. Measured compassion is not the
kind I am looking for, even if it is all I currently

So what I think is blocking me is the notion
that if I really pour myself out for you, that I
will be diminished or finished off into the chaos
of doing that. I must think that I am holding on,
maybe just barely hold on, but holding on, and
if I lean into the rain swollen river of your
pain to grab your hand, then there is a good
chance that I will drown also.

You may even get to safety, but what
about me? Indeed. What about me! It
gets tiresome that I am always trapping
myself thinking of me.

I might chance it if I thought you really
wanted help, but can I even be sure
of that, because it seems that the raging
torrents often drown out any verbal
communication between us.

Then, I wonder whether God really wants me
to get involved or is it best to just “pray from
a distance.” Yes, that’s what I will do, pray from
a distance. Nice and easy. Take the high, dry road,

This morning it is pouring rain. Pouring in an
already flooded England. I am faced with the
fact that the high, dry road has been forever
washed out and is absolutely gone. There is
no dry path. Not here, not now and not spiritually
anywhere. Even if I wear my wellies my feet are
inevitably going to get soaked and the rest of
me, too.

No, I have to know, deep inside, beyond any
external person or event, that I am in God’s hands.
I have to be so sure of God that nothing man can
do to me will cause me to turn back from what God
says. If I am called to be an instrument of healing,
I must expect that those that God causes to cross
my path, may be in pain and will thrash around
and strike out. In so doing, I may be hit. Instead of
walking away, I can ask God for wisdom as to where to
stand and how to stand .

I do sense an ever growing feeling of certainty:
nothing can snatch me out of my Father’s
hands, and thus, I am free to love openheartedly,
and love past my ever self-preserving comfort zone.
Loving from a distance can be an excuse for not
really loving at all. I don’t want that kind of life.
This I say today, not exactly my bravest day, and
so I think that I am headed in the right direction,
without excessive pretense about my own abilities.

In spite of it all,I hear God calling, and if He
is calling, He must have provision at hand for me.
I do know that the more I watch God in action, the
more I see how He never gives up. He has such a
stellar record of getting His hands dirty for
the sake of others, which makes me want to allow
Him to pull me out into the hustle and bustle of
the highway, or at the rehabilitation inn if He
prefers, there to help Him find and tend to those
whom He has gotten out of bed so early to save.

I am going out now. Out of my warm bed into the
rain of the day and the dust of the road. I
will be looking for God to show me how to love
more completely, and have compassion more tenderly.

I could love any company that feels the same way.
If not, you will know where to look for me.

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