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Lessons in true compassion

From the October 2019 issue of The Christian Science Journal

A couple of years ago, I felt the need to explore the meaning of compassion more deeply. I’d been feeling exhausted by the constant push and pull of the political situation in the world. I noticed how easily I felt overcome by deep emotions when reading the news—a great sense of sadness and heaviness regarding those suffering from injustices and other heart-wrenching issues. I thought I was being compassionate by feeling this way, but it didn’t seem to be yielding much comfort and didn’t feel like a contribution to healing. Another feeling that also arose was a sense of judgment and resentment toward those who I felt lacked compassion. I knew there had to be a healing response to what I was experiencing, so I decided to look to the Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy for fresh inspiration.

While reading about the children of Israel in the book of Exodus and their long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, I found it surprising how often the Israelites would doubt God’s power and care for them. What was even more surprising, albeit comforting, was how God never left their side. Time after time, despite all the doubt and complaints from the Israelites, God demonstrated His great patience and love by providing for them and protecting them from harm. My heart warmed even more when I found this passage in Psalms: “But he [God], being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity” (78:38). 

I wanted to understand more of that compassion that loves and forgives. Through my study of Christian Science I’d had the opportunity to feel God’s all-embracing and constant love for me, so it made sense that God, who is Love itself, would be full of tender, pure love for all His children. Love had guided the Israelites, provided them food in the desert, and forgiven their trespasses as they turned more Godward. It was because of God’s unwavering, patient love that the children of Israel did eventually come to obey, trust, and love God’s guidance. I concluded that I, too, in my true identity as a complete and perfect idea of God, could express this pure and forgiving love toward everyone around me. I could have no traits of unloving judgment, self-righteousness, or ill will, because they are not qualities of God. Of course, if this was true about me, in reality it had to be true about everyone else. 

Another point I wanted to clarify in my thought was whether it was really true that in order to be compassionate one has to feel sorrow for others’ troubles. This was essentially what I had often found myself doing when reading the news. But thinking back to the story in Exodus, it would make no sense for God to feel sorrow for His children. In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy, quoting from the Bible, makes it clear that “God is ‘of purer eyes than to behold evil’ ” (p. 357). This means that God could not see His children as lacking, suffering mortals and then feel sorrow for them. On the contrary, God sees and has always seen everyone—made by Him—as perfect, complete, and satisfied. In other words, He sees each of us as He created us, in His image and likeness.

Mrs. Eddy continues on the same page of Science and Health by adding, “We sustain Truth, not by accepting, but by rejecting a lie.” The material lie or belief that God created man capable of suffering or causing suffering is one we should not accept if we are to uphold and demonstrate Truth. I realized that being truly compassionate really involves defending man as the image and likeness of God, infinite Spirit and divine Love, and understanding his freedom from pain and suffering. It entails embracing everyone in thought as God’s perfect and loved child and recognizing, without hesitation, that no one could actually ever be outside of His all-encompassing love. And because God is Love and is compassionate and man reflects God, we really can’t help expressing compassionate, healing love.

Another thought that came to me was that true compassion is not a passive quality. It is not just a superficial thing to feel compassion toward another, but it is powerful and can contribute to healing. Christ Jesus was often described as being “moved with compassion” when the multitudes approached him seeking healing (for example, in Matthew 14:14). His healing ability never failed because he knew it came from God. He also didn’t get hung up on the symptoms of an illness or the gravity of sin. As described in Science and Health: “Jesus beheld in Science the perfect man, who appeared to him where sinning mortal man appears to mortals. In this perfect man the Saviour saw God’s own likeness, and this correct view of man healed the sick” (pp. 476–477). And we can all naturally follow his example by opening up to God’s grace and love and witnessing healing. 

I also realized that expressing compassion is one of the most selfless gifts one can give another, because it requires letting go of a personal sense of ego or self. It helps one turn from a me-focused mentality to the selfless desire to genuinely care about the welfare of another. The marginal heading “Compassion requisite” is placed next to a paragraph about healing in Science and Health, which reads in part: “… if the unselfish affections be lacking, and common sense and common humanity are disregarded, what mental quality remains, with which to evoke healing from the outstretched arm of righteousness?” (p. 365). How vital it is, then, to be compassionate and selfless toward others in order for healing to occur. 

An incident I had experienced previously helped me think of these ideas in a practical light.

As I was sitting in a train station one evening waiting for the train to take me home, I saw a man who appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. He was walking along the station, tumbling from side to side, and getting closer and closer to the train tracks (a drop of about five feet). My first thought was to ignore him and go on about my business. I’m ashamed to admit that I even felt annoyed and judgmental. As he was getting closer to the drop, however, it was obvious that doing nothing was not the answer. I quickly went over to him and guided him to a nearby bench while telling him, half-reproachingly and half-concernedly, to be more careful.

He explained that he no longer cared for his life, and that he had done too many bad things to keep on living. The sense of condemnation and anger quickly dissolved from my thought, replaced with a strong sense of compassion. Something inside of me shook in protest at the thought of a child of God not being worthy enough to live.

I lovingly, yet firmly, spoke to him about God’s unchanging love for him and His divine mercy. I felt led to share different ideas that affirmed God’s indestructible relation to His beloved children. I assured the man that God was caring for him and that He was shepherding him out of whatever he was dealing with. This went on for a few more minutes until my train arrived. We both stood up and hugged, and he sincerely thanked me and walked away.

Thinking back to this, I realized that what I had experienced was a true sense of compassion. Anger and judgment had quickly given place to what seemed much more natural to do: to love this man by seeing him as God sees him, in his true nature—pure, innocent, and in his right mind. I also didn’t get stuck in grief or sadness at hearing his story. I simply felt so strongly that this man lived in God’s safe and protective care. 

Though I haven’t seen this man again, I continue to affirm his true identity and safety in God, and I am infinitely grateful for the lessons this encounter taught me.

These insights have been very important in helping me improve the way I react to the news and to others who think differently than I do. I am constantly comforted to know that God is our source of compassion and that each of us can not only feel compassion toward others but see it lead to healing as well.

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