“Compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.”- Mason Cooley.
We Need More of This
One of the most well-known stories Jesus told was of the Good Samaritan. Samaritans were a race of people viewed as outcasts by Jews. In fact, when traveling, Jews would take the long road and go around Samaria, even if it meant more time walking.
As the story is told by Jesus, a man was walking down a known dangerous road between Jerusalem and Jericho. It was sixteen miles of curved and wildly meandering road. It was an ideal place for robbers to strike. And strike they did! The man was attacked and left for dead.
Just when the man wondered who would help him, let alone travel the same treacherous road. But as hope would have it, a priest showed up. Looking at the man, he chose not to help but go around him and continue his journey. Left hopelessly alone and in agony, another man came by, a Levite, who emulated the priest and walked by. With no hope left, a Samaritan shows up. He not only sees the man, his heart goes out to him. He deploys compassion and attends to the man. The man’s life is spared because of the Samaritan’s compassion. And if we are going to turn the tide we are in, deployments of compassion like this will be needed in droves.
What is Compassion?
When thinking of how to define and explain compassion, I recall these words from pastor and author, Dr. David Jeremiah, who aptly said:
Compassion is about the moment. It’s about what I have in my hand, whether it’s money or talent or encouragement or a shoulder to cry on. What I have in my hand that will help another person. Compassion is about those times in our lives when God intends for us to be the healer, the helper, and maybe even the hero.
What Do You Have in Your Hand?
For the Samaritan, it was a donkey and a first aid kit. It could also be a bike. This was the case for Clarence W. Stephens, who locked his keys in his car. Since it was their only car, his wife could not bring the spare key to him. A teenager on a bike came riding by and saw Stephens kick his tire and say some choice words. After learning of Stephens’ predicament, the teenager offered to ride to Stephens’ home, collect the key and bring it to him. Seven miles and an hour later, the teenager was back with the key. What you have may be small, but if you put it to use, it could make all the difference in someone else’s life.
Self-Centered or Other-Centered
In Dr. Martin Luther King’s discourse regarding this story, he explained that the two men who decided to pass by the helpless man considered what would happen to them if they stopped to help the man. While the Samaritan asked, What will happen to this man if I don’t stop to help him? The first question was self-centered and motivated by self-preservation. The second was other-centered and driven by the preservation of others.
Layers of Compassion
Compassion has three layers. First, notice the need. This may seem straightforward, but in the hustle and bustle world we live in, we can overlook people in need and stick to our routine. But often we are not guilty of overlooking the need as much as we are guilty of choosing to ignore what we see, hoping someone else will come along and do the necessary. But to truly see a need, we must look beyond it and see the person in need. Regardless of color or background, we show that we love people and care about them through compassion. Another teenager, John Lopez, a cashier at a Walmart, was moved with compassion to help a woman he noticed was in distress with not having enough money to pay the grocery bill. In his words, Lopez said, “I just felt in my heart that the Lord told me I had to help her.” Teens may not have the best reputation these days, but there are still some who are not allowing the stereotype to define them. Lopez, the teenager on the bike, and the Samaritan went passed seeing the need and into the second layer which is possessing the means.
Before the assumption that possessing the means is a definition of being wealthy is made, remember that the teenager’s means was a bike. I believe that we all possess the means to deploy compassion in one way or another. In the same way we overlook or ignore a need, we can also undermine the means we have to meet a need. This brings us back to the question, What do you have in your hand? After noticing the need and taking inventory of our needs, we can deploy compassion once we take action in the third layer which is meeting the need.
What we do with what we have releases the superpower of compassion and adds value to others. And the beneficiaries of deployed compassion are forever impacted. I have been reminded by recipients of compassionate acts that seemed small when I deployed them and mainly forgotten, but to them they are forever stored with gratitude in their mental warehouse.
Final thought: What I love about this superpower is that it never loses strength. With every deployment, it grows more powerful. And as you meet needs, you discover that your life deepens in terms of meaning and interconnectedness with others. Notice a need. Check your means. Meet the need. By doing this, we will answer what Dr. King called, “life’s most urgent question; What are you doing for others?”
Keep on keeping on!