The heart knows it’s own bitterness, and no stranger shares its joy
– Proverbs 14.10, ESV
Over a month ago, I read some comments on a Facebook post discussing the damaging effects of vaccines. As is common with all vaccine-related discussions, the comments were awash with both sides of the debate. There is always someone bashing “anti-vaxxers” as being anti-science/stupid/ignorant/hateful/child-abusers/fill-in-the-blank-with-an-insult. One comment read, “I would rather live with a child that has autism than to have my child die of whooping cough.”
I had to re-read that a couple of times.
The highly insensitive and cruel statement was indicative of an unhealthy pride. It was also obvious (based on further comments by the same individual) that this person possessed little to no experience with autism.
According to the CDC, death from whooping cough in 2012 here in the United States was up to 20 people. Of course, they don’t disclose the ages, medical complications, or living conditions of those individuals. Autism, on the other hand has an incidence of 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. If that isn’t enough, 1 in 6 children in the United States was diagnosed with a developmental disability from 2006-2008.
In other words, a mother is more likely to have a child with autism (or a developmental disability) than a child who will die of whooping cough. Autism doesn’t just “go away.” There is no medication, no vaccine, no cure. (There are certain protocols that have the potential to help minimize autistic symptoms. Read more here). In extreme cases, an autistic person cannot even communicate or relate with their caregiver. Imagine having a child you cannot connect with or a child with uncontrollable, irrational rage. Imagine yourself in the shoes of those parents who may have to care for that child until they die, and then not knowing what will happen to the child after their death. Talk about some prolonged suffering!
The commenter implied that death of a child is far worse than living with a child with which you can never have a “normal” relationship.
Think about that for a moment.
Now, ask yourself: Who am I to judge which grief is the greater of the two?
It would be cruel to minimize in any form the devastating loss of a child. On the other hand, the commenter did not take into account the vaccine-related deaths of children. How do you think those parents feel? They are guilt-ridden and heart-broken!
On the other hand, it is cruel to minimize the intense grief and exhaustion of a parent who cannot connect with their child, is unsure how to raise their child, and is isolated from other parents because of their child’s “unusual” behavior.
Again, I ask you to consider: Who am I to judge which grief is the greater of the two?
I don’t know about you, but I know that I am in no position to pass judgement on the grief of another person.
Be imitators of Jesus
I have been reading through the life of Jesus with my children over the past couple of months. Jesus showed immense compassion, particularly on individuals to whom little compassion was given. He could see beyond the surface pain and into the very depths of the person’s heart. It was not mere pity that moved Him, it was a profound love, a matchless mercy.
If Jesus had practiced comparison-based compassion, He would not have healed a single person. Jesus was acutely aware of where He was from and the situation He found Himself in. He had left the peaceful, painless place that is heaven and entered a world of suffering. He did not arrive in a position of prestige like Alexander the Great, nor did He live in the lush, comfortable palaces of Caesar. Jesus was raised in poverty and spent his adult life in itinerancy. He knew of the immense cruelty He was about to suffer in beatings, mockings, and a torturous death. Compared to the people He helped, Jesus’ grief was indescribably greater.
In spite of all that weighed heavy on Jesus, He showed mercy. He extended compassion. He demonstrated love.
Are we living like Jesus? Or are we extending comparison-based compassion?
As Christians, we are called to be imitators of Christ. While we cannot see into the heart of people, as Jesus did, we should learn and extend compassion. We have been given grace by God; we need to extend grace as well.
Every pain is unique in its form and intensity.
The above example of vaccines was not intended to foment a vaccine discussion here on the blog, but to show that we are inadequate to the task of comparing scars. As I indicated, I am ignorant of the circumstances surrounding the deaths of those 20 people from whooping cough. It would be the height of insensitivity to say that since it’s “only 20 people,” those deaths aren’t as important as the millions of parents living with autistic children. Those deaths were likely painful for the families of those individuals! Nor could I say that those parents of autistic children are suffering lesser grief than those who lost loved ones to whooping cough. Each pain is unique to the heart that bears it. It’s intensity is known only by God.
My job as a Christian is not to judge people’s scars. My job is a Christian is to shine the light of Christ. This demands that I step outside of my own pain to ease the pain of another. This requires me to think less about myself and more about others.
Am I doing this?
Am I imitating Christ?
Am I extending a measure of grace to others in light of the grace I have been given?
It’s time for me to move away from comparison-based compassion towards Christ-like compassion.