William, the victim of domestic abuse, is removed from his home and now navigates a new environment with the added weight of emotional pain and separation from his family members. It has to be this way, but it doesn’t seem fair. The fallout is poor sleep, lack of concentration in school, skittishness around new adults, withdrawal, and low-grade depression. He wonders if anyone cares anymore, and his overall feeling is desperation.
Juanita’s cancer diagnosis arrives without warning and disrupts her life and plans. Everyone in her family pays the price. Juanita has physical pain and battles against her disease. Her children struggle with feelings of confusion and frustration as they fight one another for any leftover attention, and Juanita’s husband attempts to hold it all together. This wasn’t how they saw life unfolding. It’s unfair. The family is vulnerable and hurting, and their overall feeling is despair.
Cecilia is neglected at home and seemingly overlooked at school. Only 10-years-old, she thinks, What is so wrong with me that no one cares? Hungry for care, she thrives under the attention of an “uncle” and submits to his uncomfortable advances. I can’t lose him too, she rationalizes. Emotionally disconnecting her body from her mind, she floats above her circumstances until she forgets where she is. Her overall feeling is emptiness.
Emotional abuse. Physical abuse. Trauma. Sexual abuse. Racism. Neglect. Suffering. Abandonment. Violence. Exploitation. These realities are a part of the human experience. We can work to mitigate their effect and impact the systems that set up these cruelties, but still, many will experience them.
-- Why does Jesus let this happen?
-- What is He doing as He sees it unfolding?
-- What should be our response?
The chief response of Jesus to suffering is compassion. It drives Him to:
- Heal the sick (Matt. 14:14).
- Feed the hungry (Matt. 15:32).
- Teach the crowds (Mark 6:34).
- Wipe away the tears of the bereaved (Luke 7:13).
The Greek word for compassion (splagchnizomai) is the same in these verses. It’s translated as “to be moved down to one’s bowels.” Jesus’ compassion reaches deep down into His guts, rises within Him, and compels Him to action.
We read twice in the Gospels that Jesus wept, both times in response to the suffering of another. In John 11, He weeps over the death of His friend, Lazarus, and in Luke 19, He cries for Jerusalem. He felt deeply, and since we are made in His image, we do too.
When the pain of another moves us, we model Christ’s compassion and character. The Hebrew word ra’ah meaning “to see,” also means “to respond to a need.” Embedded in the definition of this ancient word is a question: If we don’t do anything about what we see, have we really looked at someone? Compassion can and should move us to listen, fight for, come alongside, or offer ourselves on behalf of others. No matter how empathy wells up in our guts, may it cause us to reach out and connect, knowing in the end that presence matters.
Trauma-Informed Tip: The first step to becoming trauma-informed is awareness. We must “see” and acknowledge the existence of trauma and its impact on people around us—our neighbors, the person sitting next to us in church, and even those within our own homes. When we witness a difficult circumstance or find ourselves in the middle of a hard story, we need to open our eyes to the events taking place. Only then can we respond with the compassion of Christ.
Prayer: Jesus, help us have eyes to see and a heart to respond to those who hurt. We want to show Your compassion to a brokenhearted world. Amen.
- When I am suffering, what do I picture God doing at that time? (e.g., shaking his finger at me, not paying attention, crying with me., etc.)
- What truth about God's love and compassion is hard for me to believe?
- When overwhelmed by stress or pain, what is one way I can connect with God?
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