Compassion is a gift that everyone appreciates. What we have talked about the last couple of weeks actually prepares us to offer compassion. The silence. The stillness. It creates a space within us to offer compassion to others. I think most of us want to be compassionate people, but the hurry of everyday life gets in the way. I remember reading about a study they conducted with seminary students. They separated them into two groups. One group was told that they were late for an important meeting and sent them on their way. They planted a student who had just dropped all of her books on the sidewalk in front of them. The majority of students who were in a hurry just walked on past. The other group was told they had plenty of time and were sent to the same building. The majority of this group stopped to help the student in need. Hurry made a significant difference in whether someone practiced compassion or not.
And so the practices of silence and stillness lay the groundwork for today's passage of Scripture, Colossians 3:12-14: "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
Back to the seminary student study. Clearly, these are people who want to show compassion. They are studying how to serve others as a calling. And when they are not in a hurry, they show compassion by stopping to help someone in need. But once that element of hurry is present, everything changes. They feel the pressure to be on time. They don't want to look bad. They don't want to disappoint their teacher. They want to be responsible. And so they rush by the person in need. And that's why I believe that silence and stillness provide the groundwork for compassion. If we are always in a hurry, we will not be able to practice compassion. We won't have time for it.
In the silence and stillness we are reminded that we are "God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved." This identity also gives us a frame of reference in which to practice compassion. We love because God first loved us. We slow down enough to hear God remind us that we are dearly loved and that fills our hearts with love. Then we have something to share with others. What we share is "compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience." It is kind of a package deal. It is difficult to be compassionate without also being kind, humble, gentle and patient. Most of these virtues take time to develop. We probably won't get there by rushing around. We need to slow down. We need to go the speed of loving relationships.
How would you do that? I would offer this approach as a starting point. Take some time in silence and stillness first thing in the morning. Then ask God to open your eyes to see opportunities to show compassion to others. Don't try to force anything. Just be ready when the moment comes. It could be as simple as smiling at the check-out person in a grocery store. You could hold the door for someone or stop to help someone who dropped something. Or it could be something much bigger. Like listening to someone's story without giving any advice. Just seeking to understand what they feel and what they are going through. That is a wonderful gift to give a friend, a spouse, a family member or even an acquaintance at work. If you're in a hurry, you'll never have time for this. But when you slow down and trust God to lead your day, these types of opportunities will present themselves.
I would invite you to slow down and offer compassion this week. Look for the opportunities to lend a hand, share a smile, or really listen to someone's story. You will truly make other people's day better and probably feel pretty good yourself in the process. It is an exciting way to live! And it is what our world needs more than anything else.
May you know that you are dearly loved by God this week. May you share the compassion of God with others as well.