I was just reviewing my day with my lovely wife, Allison, when I realized that I might have grown up a little in the past four years. But just a little. I was telling her about two events that were seemingly insignificant to anyone else in my regular day of sports medicine, but she said, “You showed compassion today, I’m proud of you.”
Funny, that. Solomon may have been granted discernment and wisdom by God, but I would never be confused as being gifted with the gift of compassion.
I’ve always had a level of empathy. I’m not going to pull out the cliche of copying a Webster’s definition of empathy for you. If I remember right, empathy is trying to put yourself in someone else’s place. It’s seeing life from their viewpoint and gaining appreciation. That’s all good and well. But Christ called us to something greater than empathy. He called us to compassion. To show love-oriented action toward people once we gained perspective on their life.
Maybe I’m giving myself too much credit (probably) but I’ll just tell you two stories.
I walked into Subway today (I am not a paid sponsor), wanting to take them up on the $5 for any footlong for the month of October. I was salivating at the prospect of a BMT. I was already running late for a soccer game I had to cover, but I figured I would get in, get my sandwich, and get out. The only problem was that everyone else in town was aware of the promotion. I waited, of course.
While I was in line, I noticed the middle-aged woman who was stuck putting everyone’s vegetables on their sandwich. She didn’t look happy. Her haggard face told me she had been standing there for an entire shift and listening to people repeat the words, “lettuce, tomato, pickle, no cucumber” for at least eight hours. I realized that she was more than a “sandwich artist.” She was probably a mom who had kids at home dependent on her. She wanted to be anywhere but work, but she had to work to pay the bills.
When my sandwich got to her, her weary eyes just rolled up to me. She didn’t even ask what I wanted, but assumed I would tell her. I smiled at her and was as pleasant as I could be, “Everything but black olives and cucumbers, please.”
I was half-watching but looked up when she put a mountain of black olives on my sandwich. I hate black olives. They make me vomit. Profusely. In terror.
Four years ago, I would’ve scolded her probably. But at that moment as her weary hands continued to act in service for me, I said nothing. I thought, “If me having to pick black olives off my sandwich is the worst thing that happens to me today, then I’m a blessed man.” I smiled at her and said, “Thank you so much.” She actually smiled as she topped it off and said, “Oh, you said no black olives.” I said, “Doesn’t matter. Thanks.”
I paid and left for the soccer game. It was a rough one. It was between two high school girls teams and it was close until the end. Each team was physical and a couple of yellow cards had been given by the refs for too much aggressive play. I try not to get into the games too much and stay impartial. I’m there as a medical expert and to give care to anyone who needs it.
Late in the game, a girl from the other team went down after a physical play. The ref stopped the game, turned his back on the girl and proceeded to give a yellow card to the girl from our team. I ran to the other team’s sideline and said, “Hey, there’s a girl down! She’s hurt and needs attention!”
The other team’s coach was surprised by me being there and the ref turned around and stopped what he was doing to see that the girl needed assistance. He finally let her up and to the sideline. I said to the other team’s coach, “I suppose people just forget what the most important thing is out here.” She thanked me. I heard one of their players say, “Who was that?” Another said, “That was the other team’s trainer. That is great sportsmanship.”
“Sportsmanship?” I thought. I was just trying to ensure someone’s safety. All I could think about at the time was, “That is someone’s daughter out there and she needs attention.” I didn’t care what color jersey she wore or about the score of the game. I just wanted to help her.
I told Allison these things and she said I showed “compassion.” I suppose. I’ve gotten better in the past four years. But I’ll be honest. I still have days where I want to throw people through walls because I think I’m the center of the universe.
But how often do we think of other people? The check out lady at McDonalds who has been on her feet for six hours when we get mad about our order being wrong. She probably has a family she’s caring for. Our burger is not that important. The referee at your kid’s YMCA game who missed an out of bounds call. He’s making $5 a game and he’s 15. He might just be at an emotional crossroads in his life and he might take every unkind word a bit too far. What about the single mother who shows up to visit your church on Sunday? Will anyone speak to her? She needs compassion, understanding and love.
It’s not enough to view other people’s lives from where they are. We have to go a step further and act out in love and kindness. That’s what Christ did. And thank God He did.