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Compassion or No One’s Playing with a Full Deck

From when I was quite young, I stayed stressed night and day over the possibility of being scolded for anything. Unfortunately, even if a fellow student was scolded, I also hurt for them, literally. My stomach would ache.  As an adult when a friend was going through a painful divorce, it seemed almost like I was going through it myself. In many ways this made me compassionate and I tried always to relieve others’ suffering in any way I could.

But, my life became controlled by an underlying need to relieve suffering of any kind, my own, my friends’, the world’s. This sounds like a good thing, and at times it undoubtedly was. But suffering is an inevitable part of life, everyone’s life. And a lot of suffering is self inflicted and perpetuated by attempts to escape it, rather than experience it and learn and grow from it.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Compassion and fear of our own suffering may be two sides of the same coin.

Over the years I learned that I could not protect my children from suffering. And after a couple of friends, that I tried to give emotional support, ended up committing suicide, I gradually accepted that I am not God and cannot control life for anyone.

Eventually, I also recognized that some people become addicted to being victims and are bottomless pits of needs and wants that no one but God can fill.  I can be kind. I can share insights I’ve gained through my own struggles. I can bring a little laughter into the lives around me. But ultimately, each person’s journey is uniquely tailored to the process of making them into the people God created them to be…no more and no less. We can all only play the hand we were dealt and no one other than God can judge how well we are doing that.
Each person is born with their own set of genetic strengths and virtues. The thing we often overlook is that each strength has a corresponding area of weakness. Our pattern of growth will build on the strengths, but also will involve facing our weaknesses and allowing for them. We can develop survival skills in those areas, but they will never be our gifts.
That means we need one another. That means at times we must set aside our strengths and avail ourselves of the opposite set of gifts of other people. This is a dying to self of sorts. It involves suffering and humility. Not an easy task, but definitely part of becoming a couple, a family, a friend, a community, a nation, a world.

In other words, none of us is playing with a full deck! And we can help one another in partnerships, but not in dependency relationships that keep us from growing.

Compassion calls for not only kindness, but the capacity to accept suffering as part of our own lives and of life in general for everyone.
It comes down to the age old prayer: God help me to change what I can, accept what I can’t change and the wisdom to know the difference.

Spiritual Growth is Not Hierarchical

Human beings are complex and we vary greatly in numerous ways from one another.
We come into the world different because of our genes, personalities, genders, types of intelligence, talents, birth order, parents, health, looks, racial and ethnic differences, and many more variables. A mother can name numerous differences noticed in their first six weeks of life between any two or more of her children, and a kindergarten teacher can tell quite a lot of differences between the children in her class by the end of the first week.
Most strengths have a corresponding weakness. Extroverts are naturally better at talking than listening. It’s the opposite for introverts. Some children will notice and remember details about things in a room, others will remember more about the people. Some people are more visual and others more verbal. Some are more concrete and others theoretical. None of these natural strengths are better than others, in and of themselves, but life requires us to develop survival skills in all of them.
In the early part of our lives we will tend to use and hone our strengths, but as we mature into adults, life will throw us challenges in our weaker areas. The hardest part is that to develop what might be called our inferior or weakest trait, we have to let go, even “die” to our strength. It resonates with the biblical call to die to self. When life throws us into situations requiring capabilities that are not only undeveloped, but unnatural for us, we become aware of an increased need for grace. Again, the sequence of traits needing development will vary from person to person at different life stages, but often in recognizable patterns.
When we reflect on the Spiritual aspects of traits (virtues) and the seemingly almost individualized pattern of development of them, we realize that most of us, if not all, will be immature (unfinished) spiritually in some areas even close to the end of our lives. And that where we need to grow may be the exact opposite of our spouse, friend, or even a mentor.
We grow more or less in a circle to reach wholeness or holiness. Our patterns of growth are so varied, that though we can learn from each other, no one is ahead on some sort of ladder of spiritual achievement. And sometimes the things we say sound so opposite that it’s hard to realize that both may be true. A specific decision based on rules may be the same as that decision based on values, but it can also turn out to be different. It helps, if we can learn to both articulate our reasons, and listen across the differences. Hearing across differences isn’t easy any time, but there’s more possibility later in life, when both decision makers have become developed enough in their weakest area to be able to value what once was foreign, even threatening.
When Jesus was ready, God sent people to challenge his assumptions, to grow and change even in his understanding of his ministry. Jesus was able to be open to the ideas of an unusual assortment of people, women without credentials, men from outside his ethnic or religious group, even those considered the enemy. We are called to be like Jesus, to not close our mind to the possibility that God is using an unlikely person to call us to a new way of seeing.