Sympathy: “feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”
Empathy: “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
Compassion: “sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”
The world is full of sympathy. This is very evident when scrolling through social media after some sort of tragedy or great loss. We see the post that normally starts with “my thoughts are with ….. ” or “I’m praying for ….. “
I think it’s human nature to feel compelled to say something, even if we feel we can not do anything.
I dislike google’s definition of compassion. I do not feel compassion is pity or concern. I believe compassion is action. We have great examples of compassion as acts of service, in the Bible. It reminds me of the story of the Two Blind Men, Receiving Their Sight. We find that story in Matthew 20:29
“As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!” Jesus stopped and called them. “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. “Lord,” they answered, “we want our sight.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.”
Now, we can not perform the miracles that Christ could. But acts of compassion do not have to be demonstrated only on the miracle level.
Jesus could have said something like, I’m sorry for your blindness and walked on. That would be him showing sympathy. He showed compassion though by performing an act of service to relieve their burden.
I’m not always the most empathic or compassionate person in my relationships. This morning was an example of this in my marriage.
Kristina woke up with a headache. One that was preventing her from doing some things she had planned. As she rested on the couch, before heading to work, I was sympathetic with my words. I said, “I’m sorry you have a headache” which is my normal response.
I’m sure she was grateful for the sentiment, however, it did nothing to relieve or help with the situation. This morning I paused once she left the house because I recalled how hard it is to go to work with a headache and give your best. Kristina though will push through, she always does. But I know she was not only dreading work, she was dreading the work that awaits her at home too.
It was thru empathy, that I was able to realize that I’m blessed to be working from home today and could help relieve some of her burdens, by tackling those burdens around the house she was dreading.
This was such a small example and by no means any trophy winning husband moment. I just did some dishes in the end and in fact, I will likely dirty many more as the day goes on, but it is an example, of how we can push past the stereotypical sympathy reactions we have when loved ones or others are in pain. We can turn compassion into action because compassion is much more than a noun, it’s a verb too.
In the Bible, whenever Jesus had compassion, he followed it up with action.
How can we be more compassionate? I feel it starts by pushing ourselves to be more empathetic, rather than more sympathetic, in times of need or sorrow.
When someone has lost a loved one, we can take them food, donate to their charity, or offer to watch their kids. Those are greater acts of compassion than just stating “I’m sorry for your loss”.
When we hear of a great tragedy, like the hurricanes and flooding down south, we can offer prayers and warm thoughts via a Facebook post AND we could offer compassion, by volunteering, donating services, items, or money. Even if we can not directly help those in need thousands of miles away, we can help those in similar need just minutes away.
When our spouse is ill, we can tell them that we are sorry they are sick, which we are, but we can also help them tackle their to-do list or wrangle the kids and commitments as our spouse rest.
When we see needs in our community, we can push past the thoughts of compassion, towards the acts of compassion, by volunteering or donating towards those needs.It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes.
Talk is cheap because supply exceeds demand.
What could we each do today, to show compassion as an act of service in our marriage and parenting?