“We tend to believe that we welcome compassion; that the world could never have enough. At the same time, we often resist compassion,…”
She was my first introduction to these thoughts on our resistance to compassion. I have to admit that every time I read the words of this early review of my most recent book, My Own Worst Enemy, I still flinch.
“Out of everything that I disagreed with the most in this book I can’t complete this review without stating that adultery is NEVER okay. You can’t justify a wife cheating on her husband because she feels powerless at work and wants to get ahead by sleeping with the boss! Calling her a victim is absurd!… So I end this review just by saying “Wow…” This was not what I expected, and I would NEVER recommend this book to ANY Christian… EVER. In fact, my copy is going in the trash.”
The trash? Really?
I find myself wanting to defend myself. “I didn’t say that! All I did was extend compassion to the woman caught in adultery for being a victim of powerful men as well as a sinner. I just tried to help folks see that sin, even adultery, is rarely a simple choice. Especially in a culture where women had so little power and the penalty for a choice like adultery was death. Is compassion really so wrong?”
But, that defense doesn’t really get me very far or last very long… I find compassion and curiosity.
I begin to wonder about the woman who wrote those words. About what it would feel like to be a woman who feels the need to defend the rules against the healing force of compassion with such a strong response. (Actually… I could well have written that review a few decades ago.). Does she think compassion would weaken them? (I did.) Does she need this woman to be nothing but wrong so she can know her own boundaries more clearly? (I did… or thought I did.) I wonder about how she sees her own limitations and sinful choices. (It wasn’t pretty for me.) How does she see her own desperate moments and less than ideal compromises? Those times when she felt trapped or lost hope? Isn’t there room to call something sin and extending comfort and compassion all at once?
I think of myself in the now…
How hard I can be on myself at times when I look at the scales. Why do I make gaining weight shameful?
How brutal the internal dialogue can be when I let my schedule get too crowded… or too empty. Or how I still criticize myself when I have failed to connect at a speaking engagement.
I am not always a safe place for me.
Why am I so resistant to compassion?
How hesitant I am to extend compassion to myself in the midst of my chronic pain. How much I feel like a failure when I have to take a pain pill or, alternately, don’t have the wisdom to take one soon enough and end up frozen in pain.
I can find a way to be unkind to myself no matter which way I go.
We tend to believe that we welcome compassion; that the world could never have enough. At the same time, we often resist compassion, especially when it is pointed at someone we need to see as wrong or at ourselves.
Why are we so resistant to compassion?
If I receive compassion, it makes my pain or my sin or my suffering real in a way that I would prefer to deny.
It makes me vulnerable… those who need compassion seem “less than” the one who offers it.
There’s a way in which I don’t want to let compassion touch me because it might not always be there when I need it… I want to stay hard and defended rather than to hope.
Compassion seemed to be the first order of business with Jesus and women:
He stooped to more fully meet the woman caught in adultery.
He offered the woman at the well water.
He healed the woman with the hemorrhage even before he saw her.
He protected Mary’s brave choice to sit at his feet.
He even compassionately tried to get Martha to see herself and her anxiety instead of shaming her for shaming Mary.
Jesus felt compassion on the city, the crowd, and the woman bent over. He received the compassion of another when he was anointed for burial as he marched on toward the cross. He sought the compassion of his friends, asking them to stay up with him while he suffered.
What do you do with compassion? Where do you find resistance within yourself?