But God is compassionate
Psalm 145:8-9 The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.
Psalm 103:8, 13 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. … The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Ephesians 5:1 Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.
Compassion: to suffer together; to recognize the suffering of others and wish or take action to help them. It’s the desire to take action to help that separates compassion from empathy.
Our ability to have compassion toward others is nurtured by the compassion we extend to ourselves, just as Jesus calls us to love others as we love ourselves. For those of us who have experienced trauma, this can be difficult. This week Alexandra Hudson (https://www.civic-renaissance.com/?utm_source=substack&utm_medium=email) wrote about a book called The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. I’m quoting an excerpt, with her permission. Another resource that I’ve found helpful is Try Softer by Aundi Kolber.
Our trauma and wounds
We all have wounds that inform how we interact with others today.
Trauma is a specific kind of wound that can chronically inhibit our relationships with others and ourselves. Trauma is an upsetting experience that brings us to the point of being overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, rage, confusion, and an inability to escape or function in the face of threat. Trauma isn’t about the event itself per se—it’s about how we respond to it, how we’re comforted after it, and how it continues to affect us.
If a child is in a horrible car accident but has a support system around him as he heals both physically and emotionally, the chances of him having long-term trauma are low.
By contrast, if a child endures sustained emotional or physical neglect or abuse growing up—and they have nowhere to turn, no one with whom they can feel safe and process their experience—the chances of long-term trauma are high.
When we encounter stress, it ends when the situation ends.
Trauma stays with us. It continues to be relived and played out in our minds and by our bodies.
Trauma begins as something that happens TO us, but then our brain begins to change: instead of smelling smoke just when there is fire, we begin to smell smoke everywhere. Everyone we meet is a possible threat to our safety and well-being.
The traumatic event is over, but we continue to react to the things around us as if we’re in survival mode. We are in a perpetual state of fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or mental collapse, which is taxing on the mind and body—“metabolically costly” as van der Kolk’s book says.
The brain and body are so preoccupied with survival—with interpreting everything around us as a life threat—that we are left with little energy to think, learn, be creative, perceive nuance, experience pleasure and joy.
We are emotionally, psychosocially and physically handicapped from bringing our best selves, and living our best lives, and bringing the fullness of ourselves to relationship with others.
The cost is not just exhaustion, but a variety of physiological issues that have no perceptible cause. The author of The Body Keeps the Score mentions chronic pain, auto-immune diseases, and headaches as just a few examples that he’s encountered in his practice.
We are not disembodied minds. We are mind, body and spirit. Too often, though, our treatments of malaise are segmented: treatments of psychological issues focus on the mind, while treatments of physiological issues focus on the body.
But seeing human beings in their fullness—as mind, body, spirit, all—and addressing the needs of each in turn and in relation to the other is the path toward fullness of life and healing.
Human beings are infinitely complex. There is so much that goes on within the human mind, body and spirit beneath the surface—beyond what people can see or understand.
Because we are uncomfortable with gaps in our knowledge—for example, “Why was my boss unnecessarily brusque to me this morning?”—we fill in those knowledge gaps with stories to help us explain things we don’t understand, even if the accounts are inaccurate or incomplete.
What would it mean to have a little more humility in our interactions with others—not presuming to know the entirety of their character and life story, reducing them to our experience with them in a single exchange—and be open to the stories that lie beneath the surface? Stories of tragedy, abuse, loss and grief that may help us better understand why people are the way they are and give us greater grace and empathy in interacting with them.