We know that God is “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15)—we take great comfort in remembering and knowing that God’s compassion, like all of God’s gifts, is there for us without end. As God shows us compassion in our sufferings and joys, He builds within us the desire to share that same light of goodness with others in our lives.
The spiritual work of compassion is rooted in the ongoing drive we cultivate as Christians to connect with others in their sufferings and joys. Compassion, which fundamentally means to “suffer together,” helps us feel what others are feeling. Our faith in Christ compels us to reach out to them, to sacrifice something of ourselves to help relieve their suffering in our own special ways.
Throughout the Bible, the message of compassion is strong and consistent, especially in the Gospels where Jesus and his apostles struggle with, and overcome, the strain of hardships . . . together. When Jesus himself withdrew from the people by boat to find solitude, they followed him. He could have sent them away, or moved on, saying he needed a rest. Instead, “when Jesus landed and saw a large crowd gathered, he had compassion on them and healed their sick” (Matthew 14:13-14). Jesus shows kindness to others without fail, and his compassion goes a step beyond kindness alone, by placing their needs above his own.
The thought of taking away another’s pain can be a little overwhelming; it seems doing something so powerful, so big, would also take in turn a substantial effort or grand gesture. But we express compassion most often in simple, yet self-sacrificing ways. When someone we care about feels heard, or is comforted to know they’re not alone, or is made to feel that their pain matters to someone else (you)—here is compassion in action, simple but powerful. An ability to express compassion arises from wisdom, observation, sound judgment, and a deep desire to try to share with others the togetherness that God has shared so generously with us.
True compassion changes the way we live, by inspiring us to be other-focused in opening our hearts to sharing in the difficulty of another. Taking on the pain of others may be a burden, time-consuming, and a test of our patience; in other words, compassion can be far from easy, even if its expression is in simple actions. Our faith asks us to increase our compassion with active, daily efforts that ultimately help us build deeper, even more meaningful connections with others—which in turn inspire prayer, good works, and love.