To Justify Compassion

A few weeks back, I caught a glimpse of a small child riding by our house on a bike with training wheels. The first thing that popped into my head, was that she was a bit old for training wheels, maybe 7 or 8.

A moment later I wondered why I felt I could judge that.

If a 4 year old has a bike with training wheels, no one thinks they are “too old”. But what about someone older. If a 19 year old rode by on a bike with training wheels, I would laugh! How silly for someone so obviously mature enough to ride a two-wheeler to hold themselves back by using training wheels. What could possibly be his rational for using them? There really is no reason a 19 year old could not ride a bike without help. It would be easy to judge him as fearful and stupid or at the very least, silly.

Unless there were some qualifying factor to excuse his “weakness.”

Lets say that same 19 year old has cerebral palsy. OH! Well, now that’s different. Of course it makes sense  for him to be using training wheels. How brave of him for trying to ride a bike at all! He is definitely exempt from judgement.

Why do people have to “qualify” for compassion, and acceptance? Who am I to judge whether or not someone else uses what I perceive to be unnecessary “training wheels”? Why is humanity so quick to scope out any “weakness” in each other? We will never know the qualifying factors in someone else’s life. Some struggles are not as visible as cerebral palsy.

Is that man in church with that back problem truly incapable of working or is he just lazy? If we knew about the beatings he received as a child and the injury during his time of military service would it change the way we thought of him? Or that person who parks in the Handicapped spot. You know, the one who appears to be in perfect health. Do I really need him to show me his Dr’s note before I feel that he is justified in where he parked?

Why do I feel I should know ALL the qualifiers to “justify” my compassion and acceptance of someone else? And what about the times when even those reasons “aren’t enough”. I may know all the reasons behind that person’s issues, but I still fail to understand. Instead of love, I offer “advice” or criticism.

Making light of a person’s seemingly pointless fears because I have no understanding of the abusive background behind that fear. Shouldn’t they have conquered this in Christ yet? That person has been depressed for far too long, shouldn’t they have given up the “training wheels” of medication? They need to break out of what is holding them back. Unless they get rid of the “training wheels”, or at least justify why they are using them, there is no way I can approve of that kind of behavior!

Instead of grilling the person in question, so that I can have enough reasons and facts to qualify them for my acceptance; Can I seek to have compassion regardless of how much I know about the situation?

Acceptance is the forerunner of understanding.

Instead of judging the obese person eating that double whopper with cheese because I have no understanding for what I perceive as “gluttony”. Shouldn’t I love and accept them as one who bears the image of Christ? Whether they have a medical condition or genetics that contribute to their weight, or they are just eating because they are lonely and depressed.

And how many times have I disqualified my children for my love, compassion and acceptance? When I cannot understand why my 2 year old is throwing a tantrum and I tell her to shut up. Or even when I know the reason for the tantrum but I decide that the end of bath-time isn’t a “good enough” reason to qualify her for my compassion. Why should I ever need to justify my love for my children?

What does it mean to love unconditionally? To love as Christ loves? To quiet my judgment and listen, actually listen to the stories of the people around me? To recognize our common humanity, and respect others as people who have the same needs and desires that I do?

Because people shouldn’t have to “qualify” for love, compassion and acceptance.

“It is easy to know what is good for someone else. It is difficult to listen and let them define themselves.”
Joan Chittester “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today”

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