We are drawn to compassionate people. Yet, it isn't always easy to be compassionate. In his book, "The Roots of Sorrow: A Pastoral Theology of Suffering", Phil Zylla develops a way to talk about God and suffering. One of the movements that we must make if we are to try to talk about faith and pain is to move from indifference to compassion.
Compassion literally means, "to suffer with." But, Mr Zylla believes that this doesn't fully reflect what Christian compassion is. It isn't simply to find yourself in a place where others suffer and to stand with them. He says that "compassion is the capacity to move toward suffering rather [than] away from it." He believes that in this regard, compassion isn't natural. He suggests that we are repelled by suffering. We prefer to move away from it rather than to it.
I understand what he is getting at. I would agree that we often avoid suffering of others. But, I also know that when we have a deep and abiding connection to the other, we are drawn toward their suffering. If our child is injured, we are drawn to them. If our sibling is in pain, we are impelled to move toward the pain. There is a desire to share the pain with the hope that our presence might help ease the suffering.
But Mr Zylla is right in that many cases we move away from suffering of those we don't know. We often don't know what to do and don't like to be somewhere that we are helpless. That is why it is often helpful to be part of organizations such as the church who create opportunities for us to be compassionate--to move toward suffering rather than away from it. With some guidance and some presence of others, we gain courage to share suffering with others.
What communities are you part of that help you develop your compassion? What kind of suffering are you willing to walk toward?