When was the last time you took a flight on a commercial airline? It is exciting to travel, especially if you’re heading for a much needed vacation or to visit a missed loved one. What is not so exciting is the other part of flying- checking your bags, having to go through security, and being cramped within a group of strangers for hours. You enter the plane, slowly make your way down the aisle, and start scanning the numbers to find your seat. Once you’ve located it, there is always that moment when you look to see who is sitting next to you…hoping there are no babies and hoping the people are “normal.” You know it’s true. It is humorous to me that we never think that others are looking at us that way. I guess we all assume we are the “normal” ones.
I was recently traveling with my family for our spring break. While waiting in the airport for our flight home, a little girl around the age of two began to scream and cry while her father desperately tried to hold her still. I couldn’t help but notice the people around them glancing over as her squeals grew in volume and frequency. I think we were all thinking the same thing. “I hope they are not on my flight and more importantly, I hope they are not sitting near me.” Time went by and it was our turn to board the plane. My husband, Chris, and I passed down row after row, and suddenly began to hear a familiar shriek as we approached our given seats. The little girl was, of course, sitting directly in front of us. He and I exchanged looks, sighed and sat down. When I peeked to my left, I felt relief as I thought the man next to me looked “normal,” until 30 seconds after take-off he fell asleep and began snoring like a grizzly bear. Chris and I exchanged glances and sighs again. With a screaming child in front of us and a snoring stranger next to me, this was going to be a long 5 hours home. I had never been so thankful for my music and headphones. I put them on and attempted to shut out the distractions. After an hour or so, I looked over to my still sleeping neighbor. I began to study his face. Suddenly, for some unknown reason, I started to think about what he may have been like as a child. Was he loved? Did he receive kindness from his family? I wondered what his life was like? Was he happy? Had he experienced hurt or disappointment? Was he treated well by his family, coworkers, and friends? It was strange. I had no idea why I began thinking these thoughts, until I realized that God had put them in my head. This man was His precious child and He loved him. I have often prayed for God to make me aware when my thoughts and actions are not pleasing to Him. I pray for Him to correct me and humble me, because as a follower of Christ, my ultimate goal is to think, communicate and act like Jesus. Heaven knows that I certainly fall short every day and that I cannot do this alone. This is why I pray for God to help me. It takes courage to do this because God is not shy about pointing out my transgressions. Many of our prayers may take a while for God to answer, but not this one, my friends. He makes it very clear, very quickly. But wouldn’t we rather have God reprove us in the moment for the ways we disappoint Him, than for us to go along living apart from His will and apart from His Word and not realize it?
What I discerned from this moment on the plane was that God was showing me that I needed more compassion. In my irritation with sitting so close to a snoring man and a crying child, I had forgotten to be compassionate. Compassion is “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Had it not occurred to me that the father in the row ahead was having a difficult time- certainly a harder time than we were- with his screaming daughter? What if she was in pain and that is why she was upset? Maybe she was frightened. Or maybe she was just in the midst of the “terrible twos.” Had I forgotten how hard my kids were at that age? My daughter was so difficult that we rarely could finish a meal at any restaurant. One time I had to leave a full basket of groceries in the middle of aisle 5 to take my misbehaving Madelyn home. Instead of being bothered by the situation, I could have offered to help him. At minimum, I could have said a prayer for them.
And maybe the man next to me was exhausted from a night of worry. Maybe he had been at the hospital for days taking care of a sick mother. Whatever the reason for his snoring, he was clearly tired and I didn’t know why. Colossians 3:12 says,
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
This verse reminds us that we are commanded, not just to have compassion, but to clothe ourselves with it. That means we wear it. That means all others can see it, feel it and recognize it in us. This is what we are commanded to do as God’s beloved children and followers of Jesus. Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “It is amazing what happiness and a sincere expression of compassion and tenderness will induce” (The Power of Positive Thinking).
A dear friend used to say that he wished more people could have “soft eyes.” I love that phrase because it reminds me of Jesus. Can’t you imagine how Jesus’ soft eyes looked at the blind man begging to be healed and the woman at the well in need of His living water? Imagine His soft eyes as He looked at Mary and Martha, who were grieving at the loss of their brother, Lazarus. How do you think His soft eyes look at us when we are hurting and suffering? And how were His soft eyes gazing on all humankind while He was nailed to the cross to save us all?
Jesus did not look at people with condemnation or disgust. His soft eyes enabled him to see through imperfect behavior into the heart of the person in front of Him. Oh, how I pray that I can do the same.
And another thing we may not realize is that showing compassion to others not only blesses them, but it blesses us as well. We somehow feel less disapproving of those who exasperate or annoy us and more open to being understanding and kind. It takes so much energy to hate and hold on to anger doesn’t it? It drains our spirit and can even make us sick. Our lives really can become more peaceful and full of joy when we show kindness and compassion, especially to our enemies.
Does this seem impossible to you- to love your enemies? You may be saying, “But you have no idea what he did to me, and I am supposed to be kind to him?” Or, “she hurt me and still hurts me in ways no one else can understand, so how in the world can I possibly be compassionate to her?” I get it, and actually I’ve been there. It seems impossible to love someone who has hurt you. The normal response of hate and bitterness and revenge just seems appropriate. But do you realize what this is actually doing to you? Do you realize that those thoughts and actions are stealing your joy and peace…and maybe even your health?
“love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?…And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? But love your enemies and do good to them…then your reward will be great” (Luke 6:27-28, 32-33, 35).
Do you see how those verses ended? “Your reward will be great.” Would he have written these words if there wasn’t something in it for us? Would he have encouraged us to do the unthinkable, the seemingly impossible, if there wasn’t something wonderful on the other side for us? Do you always want to go work out at the gym? No, you do it because you know what you will get out of it. Do you want to pick the salad instead of the cheese fries? Not always, but you know that it is better for you. God knows this is hard for us to love our enemies. He completely understands our pain and why it seems unreasonable to show them compassion. But He also wants what is best for us and for all His children. He encourages us to love and be compassionate because He knows we will benefit from a life lived that way.
And when we embrace it, He wants to reward us. He rewards us with peace. Imagine your life without the worries and stresses that plague you right now. Imagine your life with no ill thoughts toward anyone. Wouldn’t this be a relief? He wants to reward you with joy. Not fleeting happiness that comes and goes based on your circumstances, but real joy. That is pure gladness and an acceptance you feel deep in your soul. It means you are no longer burdened with the thoughts and feelings that used to wear you down. You are triumphant and free. Wouldn’t this be refreshing? Your reward will also be the favor of God. And this is really something special. When we do, in the name of the Lord, what seems impossible for a human being to do, He sees it and is pleased. Let’s be honest, hasn’t God showed you compassion after all? He looks at your mistakes, your selfishness, the times you’ve pushed Him aside to go your own way, the times you’ve hurt another of his children, yet He still has immense love and compassion for you. Scripture says that
“your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
When we embrace Christ’s way of loving others, He shows His favor and we will be blessed in ways we may never have imagined. Galatians 6:9 promises,
“let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Who would want to deny themselves a harvest of blessings?!
As we go forward, let us all make the choice to clothe ourselves with compassion and see the world with soft eyes. Whether is it with a stranger, an enemy or a loved one, let us look at others with the knowledge that we may not know what is going on in their life right now or what they have endured in their past. Choose to focus on encouragement instead of judgment, kindness instead of criticism, and warmth instead of indifference. And remember, when we live this way, we please and honor our God, while ultimately creating for ourselves a life of joy and peace.
So…what will you be wearing today?