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Radical Compassion

Recently as I was visiting with a brother in Christ he told me that he had had certain expectations that I had failed to fulfill. My heart was broken. First of all I did not realize that the expectation had even existed. It was an “undisclosed” expectation, but none-the-less he felt like I had let him down. All I could do was to apologize and to try and understand his need. This conversation has reminded me once again the “call to compassion” that each of us have received.

So many people have had difficult things happen to them in life that they can only meet each day with so much hurt and a great deal of “unresolved” needs. They transfer onto us the lingering effects of these past negative markers, events, and lacks. As a result, we are sometimes viewed with “unrealistically great expectations”, or with a lot of unwarranted mistrust.

God is not calling us to cure these problems. Only God can do that. We are, however, expected to offer people a chance to experience some of the goodness of God through their contact with us. Will we fail in our efforts to do this? Sometimes. Will we feel guilty or resentful at times when people project onto us needs we can’t meet, and then anger or hurt when we pull back because we’ve erroneously overextended ourselves and promised too much? Probably. But, we still need to do what we can – not just for them, but also for us, because “compassion completes the circle of grace.”

Without it, self knowledge will stagnate, our prayer life will become artificial, and – most importantly – we will miss seeing and hearing those words of God that can only be received when we are in service to others.

As I was meditating on this experience I remembered a piece from a book that I read some time ago. After reading and re-reading it I decided to quote it here. It is a little lengthy, but I think you will be blessed:

“Here we are touching the profound spiritual truth that service is an expression of the search for God and not just of the desire to bring about individual or social change. this is open to all sorts of misunderstanding, but its truth is confirmed in the lives of those for whom service is a constant and uninterrupted cancer. As long as the help we offer to others is motivated primarily by the changes we may accomplish, our service cannot last long. The results do not appear, when success is absent, when we are no longer liked or praised for what we do, we lose the strength and motivation to continue. When we see nothing but sad, poor, sick, or miserable people who, even after our many attempts to offer help, remain, sad, poor, sick, and miserable, then the only reasonable response is to move away in order to prevent ourselves from becoming cynical or depressed. Radical servanthood challenges us, while attempting persistently to overcome property, hunger, illness, and any other form of human misery, to reveal the gentle presence of our compassionate God in the midst of our broken world.” (Donald P. McNeil, Douglas A. Morrison, and Henri J. M. Nouwen, Compassion, New York: Doubleday, 1982, pp. 31, 32)

Radical Servanthood! You and I are “followers” of One who modeled for us “radical servanthood.” If there is anything that the world around us needs (expects) it is “radical servanthood.” I can’t really do it, nor can you, but we can allow the RADICAL SERVANT, to meet our needs. We must continually “receive from Him so that we can give to others” thus in the giving of compassion we will complete the “circle of grace.”