What if Real Life Begins at the Moment of Compassion


“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”*

In early spring, we had a group of college and seminary students sitting around our living room after dinner. Our conversation was rich and life-giving, full of thoughtful opinions and ideas. At one point during the evening, we began to talk about abortion. One of our guests quoted his professor at seminary: “Life begins at the moment of compassion.” The teacher is an ethics professor who is affectionately known as “Dr. Tim.”

The quote has stayed with me. On the one hand, I love it. On the surface, compassion is easy for me. I tend to naturally have compassion for people. It’s what led me into becoming a nurse, it’s been honed through the years in developing countries and refugee camps. I have exercised compassion at the beds of dying patients and in the exam rooms of those who have just received a diagnosis of cancer.

But below the surface, it’s a lot more difficult. Because I subconsciously and consciously choose who is worthy of my compassion. If I am honest, I believe that some situations are worthy of compassion, and others are not. Some people are worthy, others are decidedly not worthy. I may sit at the bedside of a cancer patient, and cry with them, extending compassion and love. It’s far harder to sit at the bed of an alcoholic who is dying of esophageal varices brought on by lifestyle choices and extend that same compassion.

We humans are a complex and stubborn people. We rage about one thing, and turn our backs on another something equally disturbing. We pick the things that are most important to us and we guard those ideas and values with all of our energy and words.

Holding fast to our truth claims is critically important. In a world that changes on a whim, it is important to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it. But in all that energy we use to defend our views, we forget to add one of the most important ingredients – compassion.

What if we made sure that even when others disagree with us, they will see that we don’t hold a view to be vindictive or ugly or mean. What if we make sure that others hear compassion in everything we say, see compassion in everything we do?

What if we expended as much energy on compassion as we do on framing our well crafted and articulated beliefs? 

I think about the life of Christ, and his interactions with broken people. His was a ministry of compassion. Scripture tells us that “He saw the crowds and had compassion on them.” We see him stop in the middle of the street and ask “Who touched me?” relentlessly pursuing a woman who had touched him, desperate for healing. Instead of condemning a promiscuous woman at a well, he dug deeper and challenged her that he could offer her something to quench her thirst and fill her soul. His was a blind men see, dead men walk, deaf man hear, dead are raised, good news for the poor ministry. His words, his work, his life were filled with compassion for the human condition.

Perhaps true compassion is a result of a perfect blend of grace and truth. Jesus knew the truth about sin and poor choices, but he saw through the behavior to the expressed need behind the behavior – and in compassion he offered something so much better. 

As I write this, I think about a picture I saw this past week. It was a family picture. My niece and her husband with their children — my brother and sister-in-law on one side of them, her husband’s parents on the other side. Typical family picture – but there was nothing typical about it. There in the center was the baby they have had as a foster child for the past year. They took the picture in celebration of her adoption into the family. My niece and her husband’s life changed when they decided to take seriously the words that grow tiresome when they are not lived out: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

In taking those words seriously, a little baby came into their lives. While the goal of fostering children is reunification with the birth parents as much as possible, in this case, it wasn’t possible. And so they adopted her. There she is, all smiley, chubby baby, adopted into a family that chose compassion.

What if life, real life, begins at the moment of compassion?

“So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.'” Luke 7:22

*Matthew 9:36

For the Love of a Baby

I met Patti soon after arriving in Phoenix, Arizona. A petite, cute, blonde who looks far younger than her physical age, Patti exudes life and energy.

Patti has a heart that embraces foster children, usually babies. She has seen almost everything there is to see in terms of this worlds brokenness. From crack babies to babies with fetal alcohol syndrome, babies abandoned and babies abused, Patti is a life line in the midst of a world that has been cruel to the most vulnerable.

I often wonder how she does it. She loves these babies for a month, two months, a year and longer. Then, when told, she gives them up. Sometimes back to their families, other times to a permanent placement, but it is never under her control. A comment she left on a blog post that I did in August gave me a bit of insight into what makes Patti do what she does.

The post I did was called “Babies and the Sovereignty of God” and relayed the pregnancy and birth of my youngest son, Jonathan. Patti made this comment:

“I found myself pregnant with our third “unwanted” child right when my ex-husband was falling in love with someone else! I didn’t know about her but knew things were going terribly wrong for us. So the answer we thought would be an abortion…….”we can’t have another baby” and on and on we rationalized. Thankfully I cancelled the appointment, five days before! Twenty days later he moved out. Two months later I found out about them. At that time I had a 4 mo old and a 5-year-old. I felt like Hagar….pregnant and alone in the desert. But God gave me strength and what a blessing it was to have David. His precious little life grew in me, while my marriage died. Twenty four years later and I can’t imagine my life without him.” 

Patti went on to marry Keith, and he is God’s gift to her, embracing every child she brings home. Acting as father, grandfather and general caregiver when Patti needs a break, they are a team, giving babies a chance and loving them through the process.

Patti knows grace and strength. She also knows healing. It’s as though she took all the pain from being abandoned in her marriage and poured it into loving kids who have been abandoned. Most people I know who make a difference in the lives of hurting people, whether it be babies or grown-ups, know what its like to be hurt. It’s that hurt that compels them to care, and uses experiences that could have paralyzed them to move them into action.

Whenever I hear arguments about people who oppose abortion being unwilling to offer other solutions I think about Patti and her heart, for Patti’s primary motivation is not praise, but love of God. She lives out her faith through loving foster babies.

Yesterday when I asked Patti for permission to tell a bit of her story she said this:

Our little 14-month old baby girl (we got in May) is going to be moved to an adoptive home soon…..this one will be a hard one to let go.

I am grateful for the Patti’s in my life that help me check what I am doing, and what I could be doing. I don’t think it will be foster babies, but I too am called to live out my faith in a tangible way.

For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without actions is also dead. James 2:26

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