The Gift of Compassion

February 15th, 2013

The cost of loving is grief. It is written into the fabric of creation as our temporal bodies kiss the eternal in love. We bear this cost by loving one another with gratitude and walking through the wildernesses of suffering and death with compassion. That is how we live and die as disciples. Bearing the cost of love with open hearts and strong hands sets us on a holy and life-giving path, full of compassion and gratitude. It is a joy to stop in the midst of trying to live out the life of faith to reflect for a moment what it means to offer the gift of compassion. Just typing the words warms my heart. It conjures up in me a ministry that is gentle toward our brothers and sisters and even toward ourselves. It reminds me that just because we are trying to live out lives of faith fearlessly, it doesn’t mean that we can’t be tender in how we live.

I have been an Episcopal priest for twenty years. I was ordained when I was eight and a half months’ pregnant with my first child, so my ministry began with the community I was serving offering me a great deal of compassion. One of my first acts as a minister was to go on maternity leave! Most of the past two decades I have served as chaplain for St. Augustine’s Chapel at Vanderbilt University and as the director of Magdalene, a two-year residential program for women who have survived lives of addiction, prostitution, and violence. From my position as chaplain I have gotten to carve out a ministry based on the needs of the people I encounter on the way. This work has been about cultivating a compassionate heart, and I am often brought to my knees in gratitude for my life and faith.

I know so many priests and caregivers who burn out, but there is no law that says people who serve have to burn out. In fact, there are remedies to ensure we don’t. Instead we can be filled up by the work. We can find communities to share the journey and spaces that are daily sanctuaries for us... you know that through your loving acts toward even a single person, you are transforming the world...I think that sincerity and compassion walk side by side. What might seem like compassionate language coming from one person might seem contrived or like a platitude from another. My most sincere presence with someone is as unique as my preaching style or advice in a pastoral setting. It arises from a solid ground of prayer and contemplation. It is a blend of the lessons I have learned from other teachers and healers. It is the best I have to offer another.

excerpt from: The Gift of Compassion: A Guide to Helping Those Who Grieve by Becca Stevens. ©2012 Abingdon Press. Used with permission.

Read an excerpt from: The Gift of Encouragement by Marjorie Thompson here

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