The 2008 Christmas season is now behind us. Gifts have been purchased, given, received, and in some cases returned or exchanged. Many of us have remembered the less fortunate during the season. Somehow we can always count on a warm-fuzzy feeling when we give our support to campaigns such as Salvation Army, Rescue Missions, Domestic Abuse shelters, Toys for Tots, and the like. Giving is a way that some of us express our compassion.
Compassion can be defined as deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it. It runs deeper than donating an unwrapped toy or a can of yams to a struggling family. Compassion drives us to want to do something that will make a difference in someone's life, to somehow contribute to changing their circumstances for the better.
One way that the church I attend shows compassion is in adopting a local domestic violence shelter. Adopting a family at a shelter is not unusual, especially during the holidays, and doing so does make a difference. In fact, last year the mother of one of the adopted families commented that the gift that she received from the "adopting" family was the first Christmas gift that she received in seventeen years!
However, December is only one month out of the year. These individuals and families are escaping months and sometimes years of living in fear, and are in a transitional process to break the cycle of allowing abuse to continue. And the change can be stressful. So our church goes a step beyond gifts at Christmas time to relieve the suffering of these families. Once every three months we host a special event where the families can just hang out together. For these events our church does all the work -- set-up, cooking, clean-up -- and teh only expectation that we have of the families is that they have a good time. During the fall we had a pizza party where we played group games such as Pictionary and Mad-Libs. Last August we hosted a picnic at a local park, with all thetypical family picnic games -- three-legged race, balloon toss, face painting, and the like. At the picnic one boy, about four years old, was reluctant to eat -- he didn't believe that all of this was for him. Another girl, about nine years old, told me that this was the first time she had ever been on a picnic.
I suppose my point is this: Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy (Romans 9:14, Message). Just as God's love and compassion for us knows no season, our compassion for others ought not to be seasonal. Suffering and social injustice in all its forms is present throughout the year. Shouldn't we be moved to action on a regular basis, and not just when we are buying the fixin's for our holiday dinners?