Lessons from a Dog
On a pleasant spring evening, I watered some ferns we replanted. I chopped down weeds shooting up under the white pines. I gathered debris that had fallen in February’s cold winds. As I was coiling up a hundred feet of hose, I became aware of a presence nearby. It was our Labrador, Tyler. He was licking the dirt and looking at me. As I approached his tail wagged.
I choked up. It was a tiny, naked baby bird still wet from hatching. I strained to see what nest above it may have fallen out of. I circled the house searching. Tyler had found this tiny baby and carefully loaded it into his mouth and brought it to me. He thought I could do something to save this helpless creature. Yet, I was as helpless in this tragedy as he.
Compassion means to set aside indifference and connect with those who are in pain. Jesus did this often, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) To follow Jesus we must learn to acquire this central trait of our Lord. It is key to living the baptized life. “Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts…” (Colossians 3:12)
The building block of compassion is noticing. We can’t notice people when we are absorbed in our own agendas, desires, and feelings. A friend sent me a cartoon about providing seeing-eye dogs to pedestrians glued to their smartphones. It made me smile yet I was also embarrassed by how such a digitally connected world has become so disconnected from the people right in front of us. Compassion starts with noticing. Author Elizabeth Peale Allen suggests three steps to increase your compassion:
1. Build up your empathy.
Spend five minutes a day practicing putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Choose a news report, a neighbor or a member of your own family and really contemplate what it feels like to be that person. Don’t shy away as soon as you think, “That must be awful!” Delve deep into what it’s like to suffer in that way. This exercise can help you learn to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
2. Learn to pause before speaking.
Scripture tells us, “People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). To be compassionate toward others, we need to allow time for the Holy Spirit to override our tendency to judge. A simple prayer like, “Holy Spirit, guide my heart,” often provides enough space (and guidance!) to help us see why people are behaving the way they are.
3. Recognize the barriers to compassion.
It’s impossible to be annoyed and compassionate at the same time. Frustration, suspicion, irritation, bitterness, dislike and anger are all signs that we may be looking at others without compassion. We can pray to the Father to “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice” that rules in our hearts (Ephesians 4:31).
Ask God to help you “be kind and tenderhearted” (Ephesians 4:32). Begin this very day to cultivate a spirit of compassion. It’s amazing that even a dog can lead you to Jesus.
In hope and confidence,
Pastor Tom Anderson 2018/06/13