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  • Rodney Lee Mills

A Compassionate Heart

For most people, it’s easy to show compassion to people we know. The difficulty comes when we try to apply compassion to those we have no relationship with or have no vested interest in. One story that comes to mind involves the treatment of a homeless who sat outside of a church one Sunday morning. The church service was about to start so people began to quickly file into the church. Despite the rush, it was impossible to miss the homeless man because he sat at the entrance of the church. Everyone who entered the church looked upon the homeless man with pity but no one extended a welcome or asked if he wanted to come in to hear the message.

Just before the church service was about to start, the homeless man got up and entered the church. To the astonishment of the congregation, the homeless man made his way not to the back row but all the way to the front of the church. The homeless man didn’t stop there, he proceeded pass the front row and he walked up onto the stage and behind the pulpit. As he stared into the crowd, the congregation stared back with even greater astonishment. The homeless man then began to take off his hat and then his scarf. To the amazement of the congregation, the homeless man was the pastor of the church! It was at that time that the pastor said, “I think my sermon is complete.”

When I first heard this story, I thought about all the times I looked at others through the lens of my own biases. Like those church members, I felt pity and concern for people in situations less than my own but I didn’t act. In these situations, my inaction varied for many reasons. Some understandable such as safety concerns because I was with my kids but most of the time, it was because it was an inconvenient time or I assumed the worst about the individual. What did they do (or not do) to put themselves into this predicament? I would say to myself, “Why should I help them?” Most of the times, I anchored my inaction with this line of reasoning. Over time, I realized that these assumptions were hindering me from being compassionate and that it is easier to have compassion when I got to know a little more about that person and their situation.

Have you ever seen a stranger and been overcome with emotion for the situation you find themselves in? If you said “no”, think about the last movie or TV drama you watched. Did you ever find yourself filled with emotion for an imaginary character? You probably realize that you indeed have had compassion for a complete stranger before. The truth is, we all have found ourselves at least choked up for a character in a movie or TV drama who we don’t personally know and for that matter is not even real.

What we find in movies and in real life is that compassion comes from knowledge of an individual and an understanding of the backstory of their lives. When viewed from the context of their backstory, we find it easier to be more compassionate for that individual. In the opening story, the church was convicted after they found out that the homeless man was their pastor. But if they would have looked past his appearance and began to ask questions like, “I wonder how he got to a point of being homeless…let me ask him” or “I wonder if anyone has ever prayed for him…let me pray for him” or “We should ask him to join us”, they would have found out that this was actually their pastor. If this was actually a homeless man, they had the perfect opportunity to know this man’s situation and provide an opportunity for him to be blessed. By trying to know and understand his backstory would have made all the difference in the world.

The practical application here is to look past our own biases and always search for the person’s backstory. The people we encounter will not always be homeless. Maybe it is a kid at school that the other kids have ignored because they are “different.” Maybe it is that person in your neighborhood or at work that has trouble opening up but the moment they do, you find they have a lot to offer. The key is looking past the outside appearances and always search for more.

Have you ever looked at a person who looked different than you? Did you pre-judge them based on their appearance alone? Maybe you spoke to individuals whose intelligence or income level was obviously less than yours and you felt that there could be nothing gained from engaging with these individuals. If you found this to be the case, you are not alone. We all have pre-judged individuals without getting to know them. We have furthered this misrepresentation by assuming things about these individuals. So the next time you engage a person who you feel is not worthy of your time, reach out to them and get to know their backstory. You may be amazed at how much you appreciate them after knowing what they have gone through or are going through. In your effort to be a blessing to them, they just might end up blessing you.

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