I’ve noticed a recurring theme, a lesson of sorts, that keeps coming up in my life in various ways. At first, I was trying to ignore it as I knew that giving it attention would require a lot of work and introspection. But I’ve realized that God or the universe or whatever YOU want to call it, is trying to school me on the subject of compassion or more specifically, unconditional love for others.
I’m coming at this topic from a primarily Christian perspective, but that is only because it’s what I’m most familiar with. I think anyone and everyone can relate to what I’m going to say. Whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Wicken or praying to a shrine in your closet, I encourage you to keep reading even while I get into the tiniest bit of Jesus-talk.
In the Bible it says over and over to love others, to love your neighbor as yourself, that love heals all things, etc. etc. I think it’s really easy to read this and feel uplifted and inspired. Just love everybody, man! But it means a heck of a lot more than that. It means loving when it’s really freaking hard. It means loving the people who are mean to you, who disagree with you, who are voting for the wrong presidential candidate. And that’s the tough stuff. One of the verses in the Bible touches on this kind of really hard love specifically (aside from the whole “forgive them father” section…that’s a big one). In Matthew 5 verse 43-46 it says “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?”.
This theme has come up for me over and over and I think it’s because it’s something I’m really bad at. I call myself a Christian but I’m terrible at loving those that I find hard to love. I write people off when they disappoint me. It’s difficult for me to put myself in others’ shoes and I find it hard to forgive when people “wrong” me. But I’ve seen some pretty amazing examples that I want to share, partly for others but partly for myself, in hopes that exploring them will inspire me.
Many years ago my grandparents decided to help a young, troubled girl in their town by providing financial support to put her through college. My mom recalls one day when she and her family were at home and looked out the window, only to see a cross burning on the front lawn. It came out that it was the girl they were trying to help, rebelling against them. My grandfather spoke with the girl and asked her what motivated her to take such an extreme action. I don’t know what came of the conversation but in the end, he decided to continue to provide for her and help her in any way he could. This is one of many times my grandpa chose to respond in love.
In Wyoming in 1992, a young man named Matthew Shepard was brutally beaten and left to die tied to a fence. This was said to be a hate crime in response to Matthew’s sexual orientation. At the trial, when deciding on the sentence for the two murderers, Matthew’s father Dennis read a letter to the judge. He made the following statement “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney. However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. Mr. McKinney, I am going to grant you life, as hard as it is for me to do so, because of Matthew.” Has there ever been a more beautiful display of forgiveness, love, and grace? I pray that someday I might have the ability to be so forgiving and strong.
On the night of the Paris attacks, a man in Connecticut fired a few rounds into the Mosque next door. On various forms of social media, he spoke hatefully about Muslims, going so far as to say “Is Muslim season open yet? I’m in a target rich environment.” I think a very acceptable and even appropriate response would be to feel anger towards this violent man. Instead, the president of the Mosque invited the man to a service at the Mosque and instructed all of its Muslim members to offer him a hug and show forgiveness. Of course, there is no way to know whether this truly happened and whether it was genuine, but it’s not the only story of its kind. I want to believe that people are capable of such loving behavior.
And so I HAVE to believe I am capable of it as well. The title of this post is “stretching your net of compassion”. I stole these words from today’s sermon by K Karpen at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew. I’m going to butcher this so bear with me. The sermon was about the story in the gospel of John when, with Jesus’s help, the disciples catch 153 fish in their net. Though they have so many fish, the net does not break. K likened this to our love for one another. He said that God’s net of compassion is cast wide. The net doesn’t discriminate against gay fish, straight fish, black fish, white fish, republican fish or democrat fish. His net of mercy and compassion catches all of them without breaking.
So, I’m going to work on it. I’m going to work really really hard on it. I get upset when people hurt people that I love. I get upset when people treat me in a way that I (hope) I would never treat them. I get upset with people who treat complete strangers disrespectfully. But Jesus didn’t hate the men who crucified him. My grandpa didn’t hate the young girl who responded to his love with complete disrespect. Matthew Shepard’s parents didn’t hate the men who brutally killed their son. I think I can work on loving a little bit better, even when it’s really really hard.