I was recently asked to present on the topic of handing down a heritage of compassion from my personal experience, and while this is far too long for a blog post, it's the only thing I've written in ages so thought it should have a home here.
Home… where the neighbor alcoholic wasn’t turned away from our kitchen table (or our piano!) with his longwinded stories… where the neighbour mother who suffered from a nervous breakdown and had an alcoholic husband was seen with compassion and dignity, her sons – our playmates; where family drives took us through native reserves dreaming of children’s meetings to bring hope to these seemingly forgotten communities; where a teen who tragically lost her dad found refuge and friendship; where a newly divorced mom felt safe and supported; where the lonely and insecure found a patient listening ear at our kitchen table; where the doubters, addicts, disenchanted, depressed, discouraged and all variety of social misfits found compassion and friendship. Some, whose lives crossed ours briefly, while other relationships resulted in years of serving with kindness, compassion, faithfulness and patience.
Whenever our travels took us to a city, we always had to tour the “underbelly” where we would hear without fail, “This would be a perfect place for children’s meetings!” When I made my first trip to Vancouver, it was while my father was having gospel meetings there. The highlight of my trip wasn’t one of the many impressive tourist attractions, but a tour of Union Gospel Mission – a busy refuge for the homeless. My parents did their best to teach us to SEE the individuals and not hide them in a sweeping generalization of labels. Yes, these were the project areas of the city… the troubled ones in the community – at least the trouble that can’t be hidden or masked… but these were souls whom God dearly loved.
Am I here to brag on my parents? A resounding NO, though it’s my biggest fear that you’ll think that. I’m here to try and paint a picture of how it may affect the next generation if we live lives of compassion. To do good works with the right motive -- putting hands and feet, hearts and ears into action through the guidance and help of the Holy Spirit. To live out the love of Christ and point others to the only One who matters for this life and eternity.
You see, my parents were both raised in homes with open doors and open hearts… lives lived generously and compassionately…always seeking opportunities to share the Gospel and show God’s love.
My mother’s father had no time for racial lines or social class distinctions or limitations… he was ahead of his time. He did not tolerate any kind of gossip or stories that could be seen as “negative” toward someone else – no matter who they were. He was a humble servant of God, virtually unknown outside the Maritimes, and they lived trusting God for all their needs. The stories I’ve heard over the years are countless. The family car packed with children for children’s meetings, gospel series, conferences; the family meals that were rarely ever JUST family; my grandfather guiding his children to include those with limited capacities, the socially awkward, disabled, lonely kids – the “outcasts” of the popular groups; loving and befriending families on social-assistance; groceries bought and delivered to others when their own cupboards weren’t overflowing.
Without knowing the bigger picture – the God-centered, gospel-driven purpose -- it wouldn’t always make sense. Like the time my grandfather gave away my mom’s bike to another kid because he thought they needed it more… he saw a “need” and met it! While I reacted strongly to that story, it’s just a vivid example of how he was always seeking to build relationships… to ease burdens and share pain… to show kindness and love… in order to open doors for the gospel.
Thankfully I think my mother was more understanding in that situation than I would be!
Over the years my grandparents have had at least 25 boarders for a variety of reasons – very few for income purposes. Some for just a few weeks, others for months, and yet others for years! My grandmother still, at 85, lives in this hospitable way. She only recently resigned from driving children home after children’s meeting because of declining night vision, but still has booster seats in her car for picking children up in the daylight! She currently offers her Wi-Fi daily to a new-to-the-area lady and drives her around for errands with the desire to win her to Christ. She has driven to a different town to pick up ESL students for gospel meeting. Her phone is constantly ringing from people looking for a listening compassionate ear. Her home is known around the Maritimes as a stopping place for a quick visit, a meal and sometimes a comfy bed. If there is a grieving family within reasonable driving distance, they can expect a casserole and likely homemade rolls from my grandmother. She picks up “older ladies” for conferences and funerals, and checks in on them if she hears they aren’t well… I think she’s in denial of her age!
My father’s home also had this welcoming vibe despite my grandmother being rather private and not much of an extravert… that was my Grandfather’s role! They had their share of longer-term visitors, sharing their family space and family time with those in need. I’m not sure my grandmother ever knew how many she was going to feed from meal to meal when my grandfather was home. Once he brought home a man who had just a little too much to drink, to give him a warm safe place to sleep it off. When my father started traveling around, he heard countless stories from people in their 50’s and 60’s; stories of my grandfather shaking their hands at the end of the church meeting and pressing into their palm a $20 bill to help them in school. Most good deeds come to light when someone passes away, and it was no different at his funeral. Story after story of his compassion, but even more so, his generosity. They weren’t rich. My Dad often tells the story of eating corn every day one autumn until his mother cried, “Albert! We can’t have corn AGAIN today!” There was also green bean season and clam season, though the last one wasn’t too much of a hardship. PEI is a small community, and a few salesmen have told that when buying a car, my grandfather would do the normal thing of asking for the best price they could reasonably offer him… and then he would always pay them more. Generous. Not trying to rip anyone off. Compassionate, seeing the salesmen for who they really were… souls loved by God.
Some may pass this compassionate-style of living off as a personality strength and I’m sure in some cases it is. But I come from a long line of real introverts. The kind that avoid the phone like a plague and are most happy at home with a book or alone on the beach… the kind that loooove getting to a coffee shop alone. I have a relative who can only take so much, and then turns her phone off and hides for a couple of days because she’s had enough. This same woman has taken the disheveled smelly man pushing the shopping cart around town, into a restaurant for a hot meal… sitting WITH him and chatting while he ate. She has delivered bibles with a caring note to the hotel rooms of the Rolling Stones’; she hosts (with her husband) the young people every week for a bible study and offers them a safe place to hang out. She is one of the best listeners I know and empathizes so well. She openly shares her own struggles in order to reach out and help overwhelmed young moms, or someone struggling with depression or anxiety or spiritual questions and doubts. She is a true confident and friend to those trying to pick up the pieces of their lives in various broken stages.
What compels her to go against her natural introvert tendencies to open her home… her wallet… her time... and her heart?
It is the love of Christ. His compassion. His kindness. The strength and energy to love supernaturally comes from Christ alone!
As I have witnessed my parents giving their energy and love to many needing compassion and kindness, they also grew up watching THEIR parents live out the truth of Proverbs 3:27: Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.
And for that heritage of compassion that I have received, fueled by generations of prayer, scripture and a deep love for Christ… I am indebted and so very thankful.
As the Psalmist says, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me.”
Merriam-Webster defines compassion and its synonyms in the following ways…
· the “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress, together with a desire to alleviate it”…
· “the act or capacity for sharing the painful feelings of another.”
· It “implies pity… together with an urgent desire to aid or to spare.”
Scripture has its own description in Isaiah 58… where God shares the kind of fasting He desires in our lives:
This is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness.
Does this back up extending your hand and your heart in compassion? This is not just for unbelievers to win them to Christ, but we are commanded to care for the Body of Christ -- our brothers and sisters.
We know Matthew 5:16 well: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
This life is not about gaining approval from our family and friends… from the elders in our gatherings. It’s not about getting pats on the back or whispers of our good deeds. No – this life is about pouring ourselves out for the praise and glory of our God. Can the watching world see His light in us? His love? When they see the hurting, the grieving, the homeless and the “least of these” in the world, does it make them doubt there is a God?
Or can they see us – God’s people – doing the little we can to show compassion, to alleviate the pain and hopelessness in someone’s circumstance? We are to love because God first loved us.
Has this been done perfectly in our family? Oh my goodness, NO! There have been many times of dodging conversations or hellos to avoid the “relationship work” that might come out of it. Many times of NOT answering the phone. Times of being selfish and self-serving. Sometimes letting fear win over love. Falling into the trap of groupthink and seeing someone as the label assigned to them by society – addicted, dangerous, hopeless, or different. Sometimes seeing people as projects instead of whom they are – loved and valued by a gracious and compassionate God.
Are there dangers to living a life extending love and compassion to those around us? If not done wisely and in step with the Spirit’s guidance, I believe yes. There are dangers of crossing inappropriate boundaries… of co-dependency. When I NEED someone to continue to NEED me. When I’m too emotionally involved to see the warning signs. When I may ignore the warning signs and advice from loved ones and continue to think of my latest “charity case” as a victim and a project, and not give them the freedom to grow, heal and move on – to be strong and enabled without me. We can get used to someone depending on us and feed off their need but God places us in a life to give a helping hand, to guide them to the ONE who can meet all their needs. We can’t “fix” people – that is God’s role. And some of us can easily forget that and get addicted to trying to fix.
What has stood out to me about trying to see the world through a compassionate lens – to try to see people as God sees them? We know from Scripture that Jesus saw people differently that you and I would naturally. His love was extended to everyone – the poor, sick, lepers, beggars, widows, immigrants, mentally ill, sinners, traitors, the powerless… Roman Authorities, religious outcasts, murderers, women… scandalous women. As Jen Hatmaker says, “He loved all the unsanctioned people.”
I’m going to paraphrase Jen Hatmaker for a minute, because she said it so clearly and it’s what I saw in my parents and grandparents in how they loved and continue to love those we may call “untouchables”. When we look at the life of Jesus on earth, He shows us how we are to love others… He loved with His touch, with His presence, with proximity and with dignity. Never an “us and them”. Never with condescension. No shame. No “look at me”. No, He loved and He called them FRIENDS. I think that’s a pretty good place for us to start!
So, I am a third generation believer who comes from a line of such faithful servants of Christ. I feel the weight of Luke 12:48 – From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. How can I pass this “Heritage of Compassion” on to my children, or at least lay the seeds and pray for fruit? My kids are still very young – 4, 3 and 1. But it’s the little things that start building a foundation, that start to shape their worldview -- their God-view. These few simple things that happen in our home may give a taste of what it can look like to start pouring into the next generation:
· When we pray with the kids at night, they share someone they want to pray for, and we usually end up with a list! Some that are friends; others they know only by name from conversations in our home. We have prayed daily for a little friend who is very sick, whom my son has never met in person until recently, and he was so excited to SEE him at a church service. Praying for this little boy and his family has created a connection, without my son even knowing this family personally.
· We have a sponsored son in Rwanda, and talk about him and pray together for him.
· When delivering a meal, our kids are included and that always involves discussion on how privileged we are to be able to help meet a need in this small way.
· We encourage them to ask us and others about how their days have been and to think beyond themselves
· We have done Operation Christmas Child with them for a few years now, and it is definitely a hit!
Those are just a few simple ways we have started… but most importantly, they must see this life lived authentically and joyfully in me. So my time in prayer and scripture is vital, as it is to any life wished to be lived full of God’s compassion, kindness and love.
You may have a similar background, or maybe you are sitting here thinking that you missed out because this isn’t what your family lineage sounds like. Well, I want to remind you that you have the best heritage you could possibly have as a Child of God. Our Father is a God who is gracious and compassionate… slow to anger and full of love. Isaiah 63 says, “I will tell of the kindnesses of the Lord, the deeds for which he is to be praised, according to all the Lord has done for us…according to his compassion and many kindnesses.”
Yes, He is a good, good Father… and we are a part of His heritage. What more could we ask for?!
So as Hebrews 10:24 says, Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works… Let us take up the baton that God gives us to carry out His works of love and compassion here in the time we have left. Let’s hand down a heritage of compassion to the next generation. And we will give all the praise and glory to our God.