Nouwen writes today of Compassion:
“Learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed…Isaiah 1:17”
“When I reflect on my own life, I realize that the moments of greatest comfort and consolation were moments when someone said: ‘I cannot take your pain away, I cannot offer you a solution for your problem, but I can promise you that I won’t leave you alone and will hold onto you as long and as well as I can.’ There is much grief and pain in our lives, but what a blessing it is when we do not have to live our grief and pain alone. That is the gift of compassion.”
One of the first families I visited as a new pastor at First English was the Rifes. Now in their 90s, they have lived with one of the greatest losses I can imagine. Their two daughters, their only children, and their 5-year-old granddaughter, were all killed in an auto accident in 1966. After the accident, they moved from their 14 room farmhouse, to a house not far away because, as Eileen tells it, “it was just too much…their handprints on everything.” After the accident, Eileen went back to work as a surgical nurse for another 30 years, driving 60 miles roundtrip to the hospital, six days a week. She told me that it was the only way she could cope, to do what she could to save other people even though she could not save her own children.
On my first visit, Eileen and Tom told me of their deceased children and then they spoke of their living children. They had adopted 4 little boys through Compassion International. They showed me their photos. They said they could not bear to adopt girls, but they spoke with pride about their boys.
Then, almost as an afterthought they showed me the photo of the child they most recently adopted from Compassion, an 8-year-old girl named Fredie.
It is clear to me that the compassion between these adopted children and the Rifes is mutual. These children are, in a very real way, with them. They offer these grandparents birthdays to remember, letters to write, schooling in which they can take an interest.
Nouwen says that compassion is not so much trying to take away another’s pain or sorrow, but in standing in, of staying with…of showing up in another’s time of sorrow. What a perfect name for this agency then, that which takes children in need and offers them to be present in the lives of all those with empty spaces at their own table.
Compassion. With You.
“And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” -Jesus, in Matthew 28:30.