October 15, 2015
Last Wednesday I dropped Jack-Jack off at his class at church while I was involved in our women’s ministry. Except it wasn’t his class — it was a NEW class, because he’s three now — and he wasn’t having it. He saw our arrival at this different class as an act of betrayal, and, being Jack-Jack, he burst into flame. The problem was, I wasn’t having it either. It had been a challenging few weeks. I’d missed more Wednesday mornings than not, and last Wednesday morning I COULD NOT DEAL. Our girl and the other boys, who are on fall break, had been pleasant to each other all morning, we’d gotten out the door only marginally late (Mr. Smiles‘ fault–a baby’s appetite is no respecter of other people’s commitments), and the car turned on and got us to our destination without incident (which has not been true of all Wednesday mornings recently). All of those things should have put me in a good mood, but I’d developed an almost superstitious fear that something was going to go wrong yet again. I filled out the (rather involved) child info sticker for Mr. Smiles and handed him over. He lived up to his moniker and happily let me leave him. I moved on to the new classroom for Jack-Jack and filled out HIS child info sticker, but when I handed him over, he exploded. I’m sorry to say, compassion was not my response, which was ironic because the topic of discussion that morning was how to bend your children to your will. Just kidding, the topic was compassion. And I knew it. But I couldn’t handle the thought of missing it or being late yet again, so I pried that poor screaming child off of me, handed him over to the (very sweet and competent) nursery worker, and hustled myself out of there. Maverick had this pained smile on his face as we walked away, and said how bad he felt for Jack-Jack. “He’s fine,” I snapped, and I filled out the third, fourth, and fifth child info stickers of the morning as quickly as I could, ushered the third, fourth, and fifth children into their classroom, and skedaddled over to the area where the women were meeting, arriving only two minutes late and trying to drown my Jack-Jack-related guilt with coffee.
Turns out, he WAS fine. When I went to pick him up he was wearing an orange cape and singing Jesus Loves Me and basically having the time of his life. He was fine, he was happy, he was friends with everybody, he was going commando under his shorts…(apparently he ditched his diaper in the classroom bathroom after telling his teachers he uses the potty now [he doesn’t], a fact I didn’t discover until we got home and he had an accident. This doesn’t really have any bearing on this story…). And it seemed as though his happiness was making the people around him happy too.
I don’t know at what point in the morning his teachers gave him the cape to wear. I don’t know if he was still upset at that time or if he had calmed down by then. But I saw that cute little tow-headed kid, having gone from total wreck to superhero, and I realized that God’s comfort is like that cape — He gives it to us when we need it, and expects us to use it to bless others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).
I find that it’s easy to have compassion on someone who’s open to it, someone who is sad and suffering and lights up when approached in kindness. It’s harder to have compassion on someone who can’t even see that they need it, or shrugs off anyone’s efforts as being not good enough.
You might think that because we’re fostering, we must be extraordinarily compassionate people, that we’re just always walking around with our orange capes of comfort on. That’s sweet. Of course compassion is part of what drove us to foster in the first place, but I’ve been surprised by how difficult it’s been to maintain a sense of compassion through this process. Let me explain: I have compassion on our girl because of her situation. Every time I think of it, it pains me that things in her world are not as they ought to be, that something like family that should be one of her greatest sources of comfort in life has instead become one of her greatest sources of confusion and pain. But every day for nineteen months now, she has complained and grumbled about mundane things, and “Not Fair” is her catchphrase. However, not once in nineteen months have I heard her say “It’s not fair that other kids get to stay with their parents but I don’t get to stay with my family.” Not once has she said she’s mad at her mom and dad for the choices that took her away from them. Never has she said she’s just so confused and scared by her circumstances. Now, I get it, I do. I know that, to some extent, she expresses anger about little things because she doesn’t know how to process the underlying anger she feels about bigger things. I’m just saying that the litany of injustices she daily points out to us doesn’t elicit compassion in me. I’m longing to see some real emotion in her, some kind of honest expression of sadness so I can scoop her up and hold her and rock her and tell her it’s going to be alright. Until then, outward demonstrations of compassion are awkward, because it doesn’t make sense for her to say “Ughh, I hate phones that make you pay for Minecraft” or “Ughh, why am I the ONLY one that has to clean stuff up around here?” and for me to respond with a big bear hug and say “I’m so sorry your family life has been so deeply disrupted. I love you and pray that God will set things right in your family.” Fifty times a day. If “compassion” means “feeling pain with others,” what does that mean for people like our girl who have trained themselves to feel wrong things?
The fact is, I know in my head what it looks like, it’s just that my harried heart has a hard time absorbing it. It’s mercy instead of judgment, patience instead of exasperation, gentleness in the face of anger, speaking the truth in love when lies abound. Compassion is caring about the condition of another person’s heart even when they don’t care about it themselves.
Sometimes I hear her complaints that are meandering and false and I just stare at her, weary and at a loss. BUT. I’m just this little wisp of a person, after all. Jesus, however — Jesus had compassion on people in the MIDST of his weariness. At the end of Matthew 9, Jesus — after traveling here, there, and everywhere, after healing people and answering attacks on his character and being literally pressed in on all sides by people clamoring for his attention — looked out on the crowds and had compassion on them, “because they were harassed and helpless.” THEY were harassed?? Oh man, Jesus, you are setting the bar high on this one. When I am weary, I am selfish. I want rest, I’m jealous of those who have it easier than I do (that’s probably another post, because really, does anyone actually “have it easy”??), I want people to notice my struggle and feel bad for me or impressed by me or blah blah blah me me me. I make my weariness all about ME, but Jesus kept seeing others in his weariness. He saw them, and he had compassion on them. It’s one of the many ways that I experience the truth that God’s ways are not my ways, and His thoughts are not my thoughts. My instinct for self-centeredness goes against His perfect design. How beautiful that His design is for the hard things in life to draw us to others, for our difficulties to increase our empathy.
Some days recently, I feel like Jack-Jack going into his new class. I wake up and kind of face the day kicking and screaming. And God says “yeah yeah, Elisa, I hear you. Just trust me and GO, and I promise, I’ll give you a cape and you’ll be singing my praises by the end of this day.” He promises me his cape of comfort, and once he’s given it, he nudges me towards others to share it with them, whether they think they want it or not. But he has to keep nudging me, because I’m kind of slow. I wrote most of this last night, and just this morning, our girl came out ready to fight. She was wearing her chartreuse and lentil bean-colored glasses, and it seemed everyone was being mean to her, everyone was irritating her, everything everyone did was wrong. And I struggled. But compassion doesn’t mean agreeing with her, it means feeling her underlying pain. How can I feel pain that even she can’t recognize she has? I don’t really know. Jesus saw straight into people’s hearts and knew exactly what they needed. I can’t do that. But he still can, and he knows her inside and out. My orange cape just makes me the sidekick. I’m no comic book expert, but I’m going to venture to say that Batman doesn’t need Robin. Robin gets the privilege of being included in the cool stuff Batman would be doing anyway. I’m Robin. (“Holy inferiority complex, Batman!”) And with Jesus, that’s no inferiority complex, it’s how it ought to be. I fumble along and make mistakes and get in the way, but Jesus is the superhero who comes to her rescue and mine.
I relate to your sweet girl — I seek and plunder to gain the gold-covered-words of compassion from those around me, and when I am defeated by the truth of my own inward pain I fight and run. Victory is in being able to accept compassion, and the true compassion that speaks truth. This is why I often close my eyes to the cross. I open my hands for mercy, but close my eyes to the cost of the gift. Mercy and forgiveness are not free, and they cannot be purchased or stolen.
Thank you so much for showing God’s compassion through your experiences. I am truly blessed by them.
That’s so beautiful Cassia. I love hearing your perspective.
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