If there’s one thing I’ve learned since becoming a mom, it’s that my kids have a lot more to teach me than the other way around.
One of those lessons is compassion. You see, my five-year-old nephew, Russell, is a handful. He has a number of developmental delays and disorders. He can throw some monster tantrums. At times it can be a physical challenge to calm him down. But not for my daughter, Maddie, who is also five.
On more than one occasion when Russell is having trouble coping, I have watched her take his hand, speak softly in his ear and accomplish what two or more adults could not. Or when someone doesn’t understand what he’s saying, she steps in and verbalizes what he can’t. That’s not to say they don’t fight at times like brother and sister, but when the time comes, Maddie steps up as Russell’s protector, comforter and confidante.
On the flip side, what Russell has taught Maddie is just as important. He has taught her how to be compassionate. As a five-year-old, it would be very easy for Maddie to just shake her head and go about her own business when Russell acts out. Instead, she has learned to take an active role in making the situation better—especially for Russell.
An Act of Faith
According to Merriam-Webster’s 10th Edition Collegiate Dictionary, compassion is “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.”
The thing that excites me about this definition of compassion is that not only does it call us to recognize difficult situations in people’s lives, but it also calls us to try to do something to make the situation better.
It’s more than just saying, “That’s too bad!” or “I wish there was something I could do.” By showing compassion, you can do something. And it doesn’t always have to be on a grand scale.
For example, I was at a friend’s house not long ago on her birthday. During the course of the day it became apparent that her parents had forgotten her birthday. I asked what her plans were and she said she had none. I felt horrible, and knew I had to do something. I invited her to dinner with my family to celebrate her birthday. She was thrilled.
And if the wonderful feeling you get from being compassionate isn’t enough to compel you to engage in compassion, take your lead from our faith.
In many ways, the Catholic Church is a wonderful example of compassion. Organizations such as Catholic Relief Services put into action our desire to help.
And the Church is not the only reminder that we should display compassion. The Bible is filled with many stories of compassion, such as the Good Samaritan.
We are called to compassion through our faith. Here are some suggestions for finding a way to demonstrate compassion in your everyday life.
• How would you define compassion? Talk with your family about what each of you believes being compassionate means and ways in which you can demonstrate compassion.
• Practice compassion. Instead of just saying, “That’s not right” or “Isn’t that too bad,” do something about the situation. For instance, volunteer at a home for battered women and offer a listening ear, or serve dinner at your local homeless shelter.
• Look for little ways to practice compassion. Maybe you can’t volunteer at your local hospice or nursing home. Try to practice compassion in ways that you’re able, no matter how small. Cook meals for a family with a loved one in the hospital. Take your friends’ kids for a day so they can have some time for themselves after a particularly tough day or week. Just let someone vent to you about whatever it is he or she is struggling with. Even small acts of compassion can have a big effect.
• Find examples of compassion in the Bible and reflect on them or discuss them with your friends or family. Put yourself in the situation. Would you have acted in the same way? Why or why not?
• Seek out and support organizations that display compassion, such as the Red Cross or a local program that provides support for young pregnant women. You can do this through monetary donations, donations of goods or volunteering.
Next Month: School Days: Learning Our Faith