Have you ever taken a spiritual gifts survey? I’ve taken different ones over the years – self-assessments that help you identify your spiritual gifts. I recently retook one and as I sat there studying the results, they were pretty much what I expected. Teaching and encouraging were at the top. Those come easily to me and I readily see them in my daily life. But then at the bottom is the gift of compassion. I wasn’t surprised that it was the lowest, but I wondered if that score might have improved in recent years. It’s not low because I don’t have compassion, but because I’ve always felt uncomfortable around people who were hurting. I didn’t know what to say or do, so I tried to avoid them altogether.
In Not Too Far From Here, I shared how I had started praying for the gift of compassion long ago when I was a young mother. I recognized that weakness in myself and was asking God for His help in overcoming it. Even now, any time I read those lyrics, I’m overcome with emotion. Partly, because of their beauty, but partly because of memories from the past few decades that it brings to mind.
Recently, I had a hard day. My morning started in the usual way, with coffee and Facebook. As I scrolled through my feed there was prayer request after prayer request…”my husband’s best friend committed suicide”… “my sister’s baby died,”… “my husband asked for a divorce…” I paused to pray for each of them.
Later in the morning, I went to do my volunteering. Among the small group of women, there were more heartaches: Nowhere to live, separation from children, feelings of shame and worthlessness. We prayed together while there, but I still carried them on my heart, praying for them throughout the day.
Then that evening I had another meeting with a group of women from church. In the comfort of this small close-knit group, women confided about the problems they were facing so that we could pray together.
Give Me Your Eyes
By the end of the night I felt tired and unexplainably weepy. On my long drive home I was thinking back through the day’s events and fighting back tears. A song came on the radio which opened the floodgates, “give me your eyes for just one moment, give me your eyes so I can see…”
I sarcastically thought, “Thanks a lot, God, that’s just what I needed!”
God keeps reminding me of those words I prayed over twenty years ago and revealing how He has answered repeatedly by putting opportunities in my path. I still feel uncomfortable and unsure of what to say, but I’ve learned that most of the time what they really need is a listening ear and a hug.
I’m an introvert and not much of a “hugger.” Sometimes a hug is easy, when it’s a friend or family member. Other times it’s more difficult. Sometimes it’s a woman who has traveled way too far down the wrong path, burning bridges along her way. Now, having nowhere to go, she feels worthless and unloved. In those instances, I’ve learned to let Jesus use my arms to hug them. Sometimes they just need to feel that human touch. Over time that has become easier and I truly begin to feel love and compassion for them.
I don’t consider myself to be a great listener, either, but I feel like I’ve made improvement in that area, too. When I think back over the past year and a half, at the new and uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced, that skill has gotten a lot of exercise.
In the past where I avoided people crying or obviously in pain, I find myself increasingly gravitating towards them. I’ve sat one-on-one with women who were suicidal and listened as they poured out their heart. I’ve hugged mothers as they cry over children that were taken away. God has brought me a long way, yet as I consider how far there is yet to go, I still feel afraid.
When God first pointed me in the direction of the drug and alcohol rehab facility, I didn’t think I had anything to offer and wondered what He wanted me to do there. Now I can see that He wanted to teach me there. It’s been like an immersion program for learning compassion. He has given me His eyes…and ears and arms.
When I reread the lyrics to “Not Too Far From Here,” I’m struck by how literally He has answered my prayer.
Moving the Mountain
If you take on one prayer request, it may not feel much heavier than a feather, but when you take on a bunch of them, their weight starts to mount up. I was feeling the pressure of that weight, and since so many prayer requests were given in confidence, I was still feeling the burden. While I was alone driving home and had the time to start sorting out the mood I was in, it was then that I became aware of that mountain.
Coincidentally, (Godincidentally?) we had just discussed Matthew 17:20 in our meeting:
”He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (NIV)
It took on a new meaning for me as I realized I needed to move that mountain into God’s hands.
With my head cradled by my pillow, I envisioned God’s outstretched hands. One by one, I began to put each of those prayer requests into them. A few times, I imagined flinging them with relief, and then apologized to Him for being so rude. I was so ready to give those needs to Him.
The gift of compassion had become a burden because I was still holding it in. It wasn’t until I passed them on to the only One who could do anything about them that I started to feel better. The mountain was moved, one feather at a time.
I’m still learning how to use and manage the gift of compassion. Even though I feel timid, I also feel honored to be entrusted with people’s needs, and thankful that God sees fit to teach me through the gift of compassion.
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I can relate to so much of what you said! I don’t come from a family of huggers, but over the years I’ve become more comfortable with it. I too ‘feel’ compassion, but don’t always know quite how to express it to those who are hurting. It’s a process, and God is always willing to give us opportunities to grow isn’t he?! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment! Growing as a Christian is a lifetime process, isn’t it?
It IS a lifetime process! How encouraging to see what you’ve learned and how He’s led you on this path. Thank you for sharing the lessons with us! I’d never looked at prayer requests in quite that way, of handing over the burden to Him.
I’m not sure I had, either. Thank you for reading! I appreciate it!
Good reminder to give it to God. Too many times we forget and try to manage on our own.
That’s true! And it just doesn’t work.
I can relate to your journey, although I have always been the one to weep with those who weep and to listen and offer the hug. That part came easy to me. But since going through some really heavy years of trauma, I have found myself a little burnt out in the compassion area. I’ve found myself wanting to be way more black and white than this grey world can cope with at times. So it is always a good reminder that compassion is an asset that God gives us to carry through life. Thank you for sharing your journey. 🙂
Thank you, Hayley! And I’ve always envied people who had the gift of compassion and were the first to go comfort people. God gives us all different gifts, though.
I wish I could do more than just “like” this post… that is so beautifully written, Michelle! Compassion can be difficult to exercise when you are an introvert, like you said. Sometimes it’s not so much that we don’t feel compassion as it is that we don’t know how to show it.
Thanks, Danielle! You put that very well and I feel understood. 🙂
Wow, Michelle! That was beautiful and so personal. I loved it! I was inspired to take a spiritual gifts test and my #1 gift is MERCY. Hmmm. #1 Mercy, #2 Pastoring, #3 Administration. I have no idea what to do with that information. Probably different tests have different names for your gifts because “pastoring” does NOT seem like a gift of mine. I’ll have to read more about it.
That’s wonderful, Dee! Yes, there are different versions out there, but once you’ve identified your gifts then you can look for ways to use them for God’s kingdom. That, in turn, brings happiness and blessings!
This is such a beautiful post, Michelle. I especially liked this quote: “Now I can see that He wanted to teach me there.” So many times, I’ve noticed that many of the things God asks me to do are the things that actually end up teaching me the most. In the late summer, God continually asked me to pick up garbage while I was taking walks. That really wasn’t something I wanted to do, but when I obeyed I realized that it was teaching me a lot about humbling myself/letting go of pride and of obedience to his voice.
Even though it’s hard do do His bidding sometimes, we’re blessed when we do. That is what helps me to do things even when I’m reluctant.