What is compassion?
What does the word compassion mean to you? Don’t panic if you find it hard to come up with a definition – it’s one of those words that many of us think we know what it means – until someone asks us to come up with a definition! When we were putting “Faith at Work” together, and looking for pictures to illustrate each of the six themes, this was the one we found the hardest. We kept being given pictures that were about romantic love. Although great pictures, these just weren’t what we were looking for. Some do say that compassion is ‘love in action’ but it is different to love, and especially to romantic love.
I visited my elderly parents last weekend. My father currently has a carer twice a day. In order to maintain his dignity, I sat in a neighbouring room last Saturday morning whilst my father was being washed and dressed – but I couldn’t help hearing the conversations that went on. The carer treated him as an individual, not simply as one of her ‘to do’ list. From the way she was talking to him whilst she was giving him a wet-shave, her aim was obviously to do it with gentleness as well as efficiency, but also to do it in the way that dad wanted. She engaged him in conversation about things he might be interested in – something especially important for someone who doesn’t currently get out of the house. And she also had a wonderful sense of humour to put alongside the seriousness of the situation. Later in the day, a district nurse plus student nurse came to change his dressings, and they too showed similar characteristics. I came home thinking that I’d seen compassion lived out in a very practical way.
Compassion necessarily entails getting alongside people where they are. It is about listening to people’s stories and responding. That’s what Jesus did, and we shouldn’t be any different. A compassionate heart is a reflection of the heart of God, and we can reflect that in our actions too.
Our theme picture for compassion is quite quirky really. However, I like it because, as it’s not traditional, it provokes thought.