Compassion is the heart of the gospel. When Jesus gives us our charging orders to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner, he is explicitly telling us to note the suffering of others and – rather than turning away from or pitying them – to be as kind to them as if they were Jesus himself. He is implicitly reminding us that we have all known suffering of some sort, that we have all longed to be connected and to be understood.
It’s not easy to see pain in others’ faces, though. Not only do we have to do something once we note the pain, we have to admit that those who suffer are just as deserving (as much as any of us “deserve” grace) of connection and understanding and help as we are. It’s more comfortable to tell ourselves the story that the sufferer made poor choices to get to where he/she is. That obviously we made much more responsible decisions to be in the position to choose our targets of compassion.
BUT. What if instead we went about our lives believing that people are doing the best they can, that some folks are trapped in systems not of their making? What if we loved these folks as they are? What if we remembered our low points and connected with those in need out of our shared humanity?
This is the framework that Brené Brown suggests we operate out of. It is not a call to doormat-dom, however. It is not wearing ourselves down to the nub. It is a balancing act. It is knowing and honoring our limits so that we can do the hard work of looking pain in the eye and extending compassion.
What would it look like if we believed the people who exasperate or frighten us are doing the best they can? The person who calls the church every month for help with the utility bill. The congregational antagonist. The ministry leader whose life is spiraling out of control. What inner work would we need to do first to be able to extend this generous interpretation? And what difference would it make in our individual and collective lives if we could look at others – all others – through these Christ-colored glasses?