I am not sure when this happened, or if it was ever any different, but I find myself very non-responsive to my children when they hurt themselves. We possess some genes that carry a tendency toward drama, and my children carry those genes strongly. I stopped worrying over every little exclamation, tear and whine a long time ago, but I recently realized that I have also stopped worrying over the bigger things too.
Now, taken at face value this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. And maybe I should clarify which bigger things I’ve stopped worrying about. Those would be the bonks on the head and the stubbed and bleeding toes. The scrapes and the bruises and other injuries common to children who run barefoot in the yard, climb trees and throw rocks at imagined monsters, occasionally hitting the house or each other. Among many other activities that have potential to cause minor bodily harm…
I not only don’t worry about those things, I have stopped responding to them with compassion. A hurried, “you’ll be fine, wipe your tears and get an ice pack,” is about all they get from me. Occasionally I stop for a quick hug or kiss. Of course, if there is an occasion that calls for a trip to the urgent care, we hop in the car and go… but beyond that, I have stopped sweating it all.
Not until recently have I realized how lacking in compassion this is. This realization came about with a good old fashioned bonk on my own head. While doing the laundry I’d opened the top cabinet door to access detergent, then without closing it, I bent over to grab and arm load of laundry, only to rise up quickly and sharply crack my skull on the bottom corner of the cabinet door.
I instantly felt sick to my stomach and tears filled my vision. I totally cried like a kindergartener! My son came around the corner, “Mom? Are you crying?” Instantly I turned and hid my tears from him, but in that moment I realized how much his concern comforted me.
There wasn’t anything my seven-year-old could do, but the fact that he cared and expressed it meant the world. I’m pretty sure that is compassion. And my son has a better understanding of it than I do.
It took me experiencing my own pain to realize that when my kids experience pain, of any degree, the most important element they are seeking out is simply the comfort of knowing that someone else cares.
Now, this is pretty basic. And I know many women who have this down instinctively and are incredibly compassionate. My husband is one of several men I know who possess more compassion that I do. It is a wonderful gift that I was not endowed with in instinct and have neglected to develop over the years.
It is a gift that gave me glowing insight into God’s heart toward me, and maybe even a tiny pin-hole of understanding why He can be so loving yet allow us to live in a world with so much pain and destruction. Having given us the gift of free will – meaning every one of us has the freedom to make our own choices, whether that is to harm someone else or how we respond when we are harmed against our will – He also allows us the ability to feel the consequences of each choice we make.
If my children never felt the pain of stubbing toes on pavement, they wouldn’t understand the importance of wearing shoes in certain environments. If they didn’t experience the injury of falling out of a tree, I can think of two children who would attempt greater heights without concern for safety or bodily harm. (not that they don’t attempt greater heights anyway, but at least they learn a bit of caution while doing so…)
And whey my children hurt each other, if they did not suffer the consequences of being hurt by one another, they would never learn what it feels like to be hurting – they would not put together that the act of harm causes another pain, unless they had some kind of understanding of what pain feels like. For example, my son at age 2 thought biting his sister was hilarious. He thought it was pretty cool how his teeth left marks, and that he could get such a huge response from her. He thought this way until he was bitten hard himself, and the tears were streaming down his face and teeth marks were imbedded on his hand. Once he made the connection of his actions to the pain they caused, he has never bitten anyone again.
Now, let me clarify something here. I believe that the only reason we have suffering on this earth is because we, the human race, chose to ignore our Creator and find our own path to knowledge and enlightenment. And, in our finite capacity we have caused ourselves and each other great harm and pain by doing so. I believe that God’s choice was to protect us from suffering, but instead of enslaving us to only His choice for each of us, He has allowed us to decide whether or not to agree with Him about His way being best. I firmly believe that it was our choices, way back when and throughout the ages, that has wrought us so much pain.
However, God, in His infinite capacity, has allowed us to do things our way and to discover the world He created the way we want. In this, knowing the dangers and the pain we have potential to experience and inflict, He allows us to also experience the consequences. In His mercy, He allows us to not only choose to bite each other, but to be bitten and to experience our actions for ourselves. However, His mercy doesn’t end at allowing us to experience our own actions. He also showed us how to respond in a way that ends the cycle of hurting.
Jesus, God’s son, God in Himself, taking on the suffering we brought on ourselves through the choices we have made, not only suffered at our hand, died for it, but rose from the grave with Forgiveness being His greatest gift. He took on all that pain, now knowing what it feels like in the flesh He created, and forgave us through willingly experiencing on our behalf the one consequence we cannot withstand – death.
The cool thing is that He not only expresses concern for us when we are hurting, He can ALWAYS do something about making it better. That is… if we want Him to. His compassion isn’t simply expressed concern, but experience in our suffering expressed through taking it on in His flesh though it was our finite choices that got us here – He not only is concerned, but takes on our pain with us. And, if we are willing to agree that His infinite understanding is better than our finite learning, He shows us how to respond in the pain He takes on with us. Not coaching us through it from the outside, but walking us through it while experiencing it with us.
It took being cracked over the head myself to see the need my children have for compassion – for the compassion that God shows me despite it being my own foolish, childish, dramatic, prideful fault. I want compassion to be not only something I receive, but also express freely.