This morning I woke up and asked God the question, “What do you want from me today?”
Since God rarely capitulates to my demand for an instant answer, I didn’t wait for a response. I jumped out of bed and into my day.
It was in the shower that I heard God’s reply. This happens so frequently that I’m beginning to wonder if my bathroom should be designated a religious shrine.
“Be compassionate,” God said. “That’s what I want you to do today.”
As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Compassion is a verb.” Unlike someone who is merely empathic, the compassionate person not only feels the pain of the other but actively does something to alleviate their suffering as well.
Why is compassion in such short supply these days? Radical self-concern, our spiritual nemesis, militates against our practicing it. We are so preoccupied with our own struggles that we become inured to the unseen difficulties others are surely facing.
As I stood in the shower, I thought about the jittery, hollow-eyed kid working at Starbucks who every morning fails to give me the correct change. I’m sure the way I roll my eyes while he scrambles to repair the transaction isn’t exactly a confidence builder.
Then there is my employee, Jack, a fifty-five year old man who spaces out during meetings. It drives me crazy when his eyes glaze over signaling that I’ve lost his attention. I don’t like how it forces me to wave my hands in front of his face to refocus him. He apologizes and says it won’t happen again, but it does.
On my best days, I know these behaviors are symptoms of something far deeper. Everyone is engaged in what feels like a herculean struggle in some area of his or her life. Often the battles they are fighting are unknown to us, and we are clueless of just how close some people are to giving up.
Is it possible the bumbling teenager working at Starbucks has been striving to achieve sobriety and one word of encouragement from me might make his brave effort to stay clean that much easier? What if the next time Jack drifted off I asked him if there was something troubling him, and he shared with me the preoccupying dread of the daily visit he makes to the nursing home to see his father who no longer recognizes him?
Is it possible a spirit of compassion would overtake my self-interest, and I’d offer to go with him?
It may be overused, but Plato’s maxim is timeless. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
Compassion, the impulse to proactively lighten the burden of our fellow human beings as they contend with life’s battles, that’s what God wants, not only from me today, but no doubt from all of us.
Ian Morgan Cron is a writer, speaker, and Episcopal priest. His new book “Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts” (Thomas Nelson) was published on June 7. Follow him on Twitter @iancron, Facebook or visit his website: www.iancron.com.