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. 

Good Friday: The Way of Peace

Photo Credit: TheRevSteve via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheRevSteve via Compfight cc

As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” Then the chief priests accused him of many things. Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Mark 15:1-5

Against the violence of the empire, Jesus stood quietly, embodying nonviolence and humility. He responded vaguely to questions of his identity and silently to the accusations of wrongdoing.

If there was ever a time for violence, this was it. Ever a time for pride or boasting, this was it. But instead, Jesus responds with silence. He willingly bears the shame and humility, refusing to respond with equal vengeance.

Today, amidst the violence of our world, may we contemplate ways to be agents of change in the way that our humble king was. May the “things that make for peace” become our way of life.

And may we remember that all followers of Jesus are called to die with him, to take up our cross and sacrifice our lives for this upside down Kingdom of God.


Maundy Thursday: In the Garden

On this Maundy Thursday, I am reposting from earlier this year, after we found out we had lost our baby.

On this day, may we remember that we are invited into the garden with Jesus. Here, in this dark and lonely place, he welcomes us into his own grief and willingly shares in ours.


Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Lawrence OP via Compfight cc

We live in a finite world where everything is dying, shedding its strength. This is hard to accept, and all our lives we look for exceptions to it. We look for something strong, undying, infinite. Religions tells us that something is God. Great, we say, we’ll attach ourselves to this strong God. Then this God comes along and says, “Even I suffer. Even I participate in the finiteness of this world.” Thus Clare and Francis’ image of God was not an “alimighty” and strong God, but in fact a poor vulnerable, and humble one like Jesus. This is at the heart at the Biblical and Franciscan worldview.

The enfleshment and suffering of Jesus is saying that God is not apart from the trials of humanity. God is not aloof. God is not a mere spectator. God is not merely tolerating or even healing all human suffering. Rather, God is participating with us–in all of it–the good and the bad! I wonder if people can avoid becoming sad and cynical about the tragedies of history if they do not know this.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Job and the Mystery of Suffering

The above quote was one of the most meaningful texts I read last year. It is radical, this idea that God enters into our suffering. Our picture of God is often one in which he is unaffected by us, removed from our grief. But this is not the God revealed in Jesus.

That God has suffered and suffers still has been incredibly meaningful for me these past few days. I can not seem to sleep in while pregnant (which I still am, for an indeterminate amount of time), and Friday and Saturday mornings found me awake and entrenched in pain beyond anything I had felt before. It was agony, the kind of grief that makes you want to just quietly give up and die, rather than living another moment in that pain.

During these hours, the most helpful activity was imagining Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. There he knelt, this man of sorrows, sweating blood and tears and begging for things to be different. His closest friends lay a stones throw away, but they were sleeping, unaware of the agony so near to them. As I lay in bed, I imagined myself crawling up to Jesus in that garden, looking at him in his grievous state, and telling him that my baby had died. I knew that this pain was not beyond him, that it was not too great or too insignificant for him. And I knew that he grieved with me.

This is the kind of God that we have, and it fills me with peace. He is not an impassible, unmovable God. It is easy to feel like I should ignore or push away my grief during times like this, but I’m glad that I don’t need to feel that way around Jesus. I’m glad he lets me join him in his suffering and shares with me in mine.