Acts of compassion are powerful. They let others know that they matter, that they’re loved, that they aren’t alone. In recent years there has been an increasing number of research studies on compassion and the effects on both the giver and receiver. One thing that has come out of the variety of studies is that when someone is treated with compassion, they are more likely to do the same for others.
It turns out we get what we give (or we give what we get). When others treat us with disrespect, anger, and disdain, we are more likely to do the same. And when we experience love, grace, and mercy, we tend to pass those things on to those we encounter.
So what happens when we experience the ultimate act of compassion? What happens when we acknowledge someone’s sacrifice for us? It changes us, at least it should.
Several weeks back, I wrote a piece titled The Magic of Letting Go. In the post, I explored how I view the cross. The focus of that piece was the beauty that exists in letting go of our burdens and how such a decision gives us the ability to carry the load of someone else. You can read the original post here.
Shortly after I posted the blog, a woman sent me an email thanking me for painting a picture that helped her understand and appreciate the magnitude of forgiveness, freedom, and strength that is found in the symbol of the cross. Others reached out saying similar things.
But while there was positive feedback, others still expressed concern because they felt I skirted something very important. I had spent time in prayer and meditation on that post, and my thoughts and heart led me to address the magic and beauty represented in the symbol of the cross. While I had no intention of ignoring the source of that magic and beauty, for some, that was a major take away. I want to clear the air here.
Compassion, grace, mercy, love. These are all beautiful things. Behaviors we all should model for others. Practices that make the world a better place. In the Christian world, the ultimate symbol of compassion, grace, love, and mercy is the cross. Why? Because it is the symbol of Jesus’ sacrifice for all humankind. It is his death and resurrection that make the purest form of love possible. Love without an agenda. Love for all. A love that I believe in with all my heart.
The cross is one of the most famous icons in the Christian faith because of the love it symbolizes. This kind of love is what makes it possible for us to let go of our pains and burdens, it is what makes forgiveness and compassion possible, it is this love that gives us the strength to step into someone else’s story, press into their pain, and walk with them, no matter the outcome.
However, in social media posts, the news, and even hallway conversations; many claiming to hold the cross high are selective about the people they love. It turns out we don’t get to point to the cross as our anchor and yet be particular about who we will walk with in their pain. To embrace Christ’s death and resurrection is to embrace a love for all of humanity regardless of differing faiths or lifestyles.
I have come to recognize that to be discriminatory about who we will love is to reject the cross and the beauty it represents. To embrace it means I must choose to love all humankind, extending compassion to all I encounter, letting go of my pain so I can press into the suffering of others.
The late Rachel Held Evans said it best.
“But there is a difference between curing and healing, and I believe the church is called to the slow and difficult work of healing. We are called to enter into one another’s pain, anoint it as holy, and stick around no matter the outcome.”
This is the kind of love we are offered. It’s time to pay it forward.
No matter the outcome.