This is the fifth post in the series on Comparison Cures. To read the previous post, click here.
Jenny steeled herself and walked purposefully through the familiar front door. The cozy little house was already buzzing with the chatter of women. Jenny plastered a smile on her face, determined not to be the dark cloud on her friend’s special day.
After exchanging pleasantries with the hostess and a few other ladies, she found her dear friend, Julia, standing near a pile of blue presents and bright balloons. Her protruding belly announced to the world that a new life would soon be making its debut. Jenny wrapped her arms around her friend in a warm embrace.
“How are you feeling?” Jenny asked.
“I’m ok. My back is killing me, but that’s to be expected,” replied Julia. “Are you doing ok?”
Julia knew this wasn’t the best time to ask, but she knew the significance and sacrifice behind Jenny’s presence today. Jenny’s stomach tightened with anxiety as she carefully arranged her features to conceal the sudden twinge in her heart.
“I’m good. Looking forward to seeing you open your gifts! How do you plan to fit all this in your apartment?” said Jenny.
“Who knows? It’s unbelievable how much stuff you need for a little baby. This kid’ll probably have more outfits and blankets than I do.”
Jenny seated herself between two ladies and watched as, one by one, blue onesies, tiny shoes, brightly-colored toys, baby hats and handmade blankets were each removed from their wrappings. With each gift, the cynical old lady on her left muttered about spoiling babies with “unnecessary trinkets” and Telling Jenny that if she ever became a parent she shouldn’t waste money on such trifles. Jenny’s stomach was so knotted and her heart so tight she could hardly breathe. It was hard enough setting aside her own heartache and empty womb to make this a good day for her friend without listening to the bitter voice next to her.
She waited until she could get up without being noticed and went to the bathroom to take some deep breaths. It had been three months since she’d seen that mass of unexpected blood in the toilet; three months since the ultrasound tech had showed her that big empty space in her womb where her baby should have been; three months since she lay sobbing in that cold hospital room with an even colder, indifferent Doctor telling her that miscarriages happen all the time—and to get over it.
She kept on breathing deeply, resolved to hide her emotions. She opened the door and went back to the baby shower. She stood near the edge of the group, served slices of cake and made small talk with a few more ladies. As soon as it was polite to do so, she left the party. Once out of sight of the house she broke into a run until she reached the safe haven of her car. Once the door shut, she released a loud wail and wept heavily. She had done it. She hadn’t ruined her friend’s shower. But why, oh why, did she end up next to that bitter old woman!
“Why, God?” she gasped between sobs, “Why when I’m trying so hard to be happy for my friend and not bitter? I’m trying, Lord. I’m trying. Why did this have to happen today?!”
A month later, Julia lay in a hospital bed, her pale face lined with exhaustion from the arduous labor and emergency C-section. Her little baby boy was in the NICU because something was wrong with his heart. Jenny gently squeezed Julia’s shoulder.
“Everyone’s seen the baby but me,” Julia croaked, “I’m so worried about him.”
Jenny’s heart ached for her friend. “The doctor said he thinks everything will be ok. Can I get you anything?” she asked.
“No,” Julia exhaled, “I just want to hold him.”
A few minutes later, Julia’s husband entered the room, a small bundle wriggling in his arms. He gently laid the little baby boy in Julia’s expectant arms as tears trickled down her face. Why was this happening? Why did her baby have to be threatened with a heart condition? Her eyes took in the face of her newborn boy as she thought about the people in the room. For a brief moment she wondered if Jenny was secretly gloating over her misfortune. Her eyes flicked to Jenny’s face momentarily, but there was nothing but genuine concern reflected there.
Her body relaxed automatically. No. Jenny had set her own feelings aside to celebrate with her, and now she was here, supporting her during this agonizing moment. No matter what happened next, she was so thankful for Christian sisters like Jenny.
Jenny watched Julia reflectively as her hand absently moved to her abdomen. She wondered if she would face similar complications… if this baby growing within her made it to delivery. That was the thing with babies—miscarriage, stillbirth and deformity were an ever present possibility, but so was the potential for death and disease after the baby was born. She was so thankful she hadn’t missed the opportunity to rejoice with her friend, because today she could support her without any hint of gloating over her distress. God was training her, and for once, she hadn’t failed Him. Compassion in good times and bad is so much more fulfilling than envy and jealousy.
In my original post, I talked about our tendency to compare ourselves with others and wonder why other people seem to have it so much easier than we do. In the above story, Jenny and Julia were both grappling with their own sorrows, but instead of bitterness and resentment, there was genuine love and compassion. There are two things to consider here: first, someone may be bearing a private heartache unknown to you or anyone else; second, their suffering may be imminent and they’ll need your non-gloating sympathy.
Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.” How often do we see only the good things that people have and brush aside the weight of their suffering? How can we be compassionate if we choose to overlook their pain?
Consider the following passage from Romans:
Let love be genuine.
Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.”
~ Romans 12:9-16 ESV
You may notice that the word “compassion” isn’t mentioned here, but these are actions that enable us to show compassion. I put parts of the passage in bold to emphasize a few things.
Genuineness is an essential part of compassion.
“Let love be genuine.”
Your compassion will be somewhat ineffective if your love is fake or self-serving. The love we show is to be the “brotherly” type. As Christians, we ought to pull together just like a blood family does when one of it’s relations falls on hard times.
In the middle of Paul’s list is this encouragement to “be constant in prayer.” Why do you think that is there? Because this stuff is downright hard! We need God’s help to go against our own selfish inclinations. In the story above, Jenny set aside her fresh grief to rejoice with her friend and it took a great deal of effort. The important thing was that she took her pain to the Lord in prayer.
We also need to pray for others as though we were coming to God with our own needs. This is much easier to do if we make regular prayer time and write down our requests so we don’t forget.
Bless those who persecute you.
Sticks and stones don’t need to touch your bones for someone to hurt you. Indifference, rudeness, thoughtlessness and disdain are perfectly lethal weapons. Sometimes the people closest to us are the ones who hurt us the most. As children of God, we are supposed to forgive those who hurt us—even when they don’t apologize. Much of our resentment and “why-me-itis” stems from this inability to forgive. We think that people don’t deserve their good fortune, typically because we hate something they’ve done to us or someone else.
How can you show compassion for a brother during hard times if you are gloating over their suffering because you failed to forgive them? You can’t!
Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep.
We are commanded to rejoice with those who rejoice.
Most of the time, we find it easier to weep with those who weep. Our pity for their plight stimulates a teeny bit of thankfulness that we are not them. We don’t mind going to the rejoicing party as long as there’s good food and the ability to mask our irritation at their blessings. My friends, that is not the attitude of Christ.
So often we find ourselves avoiding times of rejoicing with others because the ache in our own hearts is too great. We need to work on giving our grief to the Lord and celebrating those good times with others without resenting their temporary good fortune. Life is full of good seasons and bad. Very few people live their entire life on cloud 9. What’s good today will be a distant memory tomorrow.
The story I wrote above is a true story, but the names were changed. Jenny’s willingness to go to that baby shower and celebrate the good times with Julia made her presence more comforting for that same friend during her time of distress. Rejoicing for others in the midst of grief can be done, but only when we die to self and lean on the Lord.
If you find yourself bitterly envious of those who have it better than you, it’s time to work on compassion. Whether you feel they don’t deserve their good fortune or they got what was coming to them, you need to give those feeling to God and act on what you know is right.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
~ Ephesians 4:31-32 NIV