Pity or Compassion?

I rolled this quote around in my head this morning, as I drove to work and contemplated my current aversion to pity. I don’t always love my commute, but there are times when it is the most sacred time of my day, forty-five full minutes in which I am unable to distract myself with my phone or meaningless tasks. I sit, and I think. And if I am smart, I let Jesus into my thoughts, allowing him to think with me.

I had my first meeting with an infertility counselor last night, and I talked through my issue with a particular person, how I can’t handle being around them because I feel as though they pity me. And I do not want to be pitied. I can handle most reactions toward us these days, but pity is not one of them. Pity makes me want to hide in a closet and never come out.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t want people to care. It is painful when I feel as though people don’t care. And the majority of the people around me care deeply, but they do not make me feel pitied at all. Tom has been out of town the last week, so I have spent my evenings meeting with several dear friends who make me feel loved and cherished and cared for. Around them, I am more than my suffering. I am more than a pity case.

So what is the difference between pity and compassion? Why do some reactions to our infertility grate on me, while others fill me with hope? The above quote help me formulate my thoughts about it, helped me turn my thoughts into a prayer and discussion with God.

Pity is looking at someone who is poor and thinking, “I am so sad for them. I am glad I have my riches.” Compassion is looking at someone who is poor and saying “They are so beautiful. I must share my riches.”

Pity sees the sadness but does not see the injustice. Compassion sees the beauty in the sadness and can not ignore the injustice. The compassionate person sees all the brokenness, but they also see more than the brokenness.

Luke tells us that when Jesus looked upon the crowds of people, most of whom were living in extreme poverty, he had compassion on them. He saw their suffering, but he also saw them as more than their suffering. So much so that he called them blessed. He acknowledged the injustice, but with his words, he exalted them above their suffering.

Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
    for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh. (Luke 6)

Pity sees me as my infertility. Pity sees me as someone they would never want to be. Pity makes me feel like less of a person, as though my life will only be worth living if I achieve the thing I lack. Pity weeps. But that’s all pity does.

Compassion sees me as Rebecca. I am infertile, but that is not all that I am. I love to read, I love to listen. I love my dogs and my husband and my friends and coffee. I love Jesus, because he loves the least of these. I love gay people, and I will tell anyone who wants to listen about how much I love them (and think Jesus loves them, too). I love chemistry and naming chemicals and teaching students who are afraid to learn. I think and process all the time, which makes me an anxious person but also an attentive person. I am more than my suffering. I am more.

How do I look at those in my life who are suffering? Do I treat them as a pity case, or do I look at them with love and compassion?

Jesus, help me to look upon the poor and the hungry and the weeping as you did. Help me to see them as blessed and then fight for them to receive the blessings they deserve.