Toddlers stumble. It defines them. Sometimes they get up and continue to play. Other times the tears flow. My 2-year-old is no different; he falls, bumps and cries. We call bumps bonks. With a minor bumps he will say that he got a bonk. After a particular nasty fall or bonk, his cries mutate into screams; words fail him. No words come out, only an intense growl from the depths of his tiny lungs. My wife and I found a ritual to help calm him. We ask, “Did you get a bonk?” He answers the question with a simple word, “yeah.” His “yeah” arises as the storm of tears and the water pouring from his eyes become still. He feels the pain, but he is not alone. Having his parents understand his pain makes his pain bearable and his recovery quicker. The power of compassion is knowing our pain doesn’t mean we have to be isolated by it. Knowing someone is willing to walk with us during the time of pain makes pain bearable. Compassion shares a particular facet with words like love, freedom and peace. Few people argue against compassion, freedom or peace. Yet, they seem rare in the world. We seem to be for them in the abstract, but in moments of existence when we should practice compassion, practice peace or avoid oppression, we choose the very opposite. We avoid the pain of others. We go through life with our fists up. We wish those that disagree with us would just shut up. If a person does metamorphose into freedom, love, peace or compassion then we view them as both noble and paradoxically, threatening. Jesus ended up on a cross for advocating things we all agree are good in theory, but do the opposite in our dealing with others. Compassion rightly occupies the center of the Christian faith. The Incarnation emphasizes God being with us. Knowing God suffers and understands our suffering forges a bond with God, making the pain bearable and our recovery quicker. Compassion also has been at the center of criticism of Christianity over the years. Jiddu Krishnamurti, the influential spiritual writer, echoes the dominant complaint of Christianity saying it is the worship of suffering. Compassion, which means suffering with, seems like wallowing in suffering. How can this preoccupation with suffering and joining in with another’s suffering be healthy for anybody’s spirit? Would it not be better to ease the suffering of another rather joining in with their suffering? Good questions. Ones that Christians have been grappling with for two millennium. I could try to add to this conversation, and all I have is not the grandeur of lofty ideas, but the steadiness of my experience. I have seen my son relieved from having someone understand his pain. The deepest relationships I have with my wife, my friends and my family are ones I have shared and they have shared with their pain. And here is the mystery of the cross; compassion is not staying on the cross, but the path to Easter. Or in other words, compassion wallows not in suffering, rather it goes to the place of suffering to become love. The dark does not overcome us; it turns to light. We stumble. It defines us. Sometimes we get up and continue to play. Other times our tears flow. We need someone who will understand our pain, wipe our tears, and turn our suffering into joy.
Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.