Sadness and joy often run parallel in the lives of Christians who struggle with an addiction, no matter what it is. Victories and defeats can be close partners, both eyeing the finish line. Bogged down in life, but seeking to leap into freedom, it is a life of anticipation and hesitation. The passage of time can lead to assurance or dejection, but the presence of God, reflected in His responsive renewal, lifts the spirit and the journey continues. If you've turned your back on a struggler, you've denied yourself a view of God's great gifts as He works in the hearts of a broken soul tuned in in hope. If you have kept your compassion in the closet, tucked away among the dusty things of life, your heart is the one that suffers most from the hoarding.
Some mornings we want a butterfly to lull us into peaceful bliss. Some days we deserve -- and need -- a sting to bring us directly into contact with the reality of pain. Sometimes when we want to follow the lazy butterfly down the garden path, we should be dashing down a trail swatting away at a yellowjacket, confronting the reality that life bites more often than hope floats.
I have come to the conclusion that at this point in my life I have been favored by a rationing of compassion, resulting in a reasonable rationality of reality. For the most part, my problems indeed turned out to be real problems for me and many others . . . which in the long run leads me to seek real solutions. Of course, that "long run" has been much longer than I would have ever thought my mind and heart and soul could survive, and it surpassed the limits of others. But guess what? The perilous points of rest along the way were punctuated with real compassion . . . the love that God provides for the endurance of those who run the race instead of forsaking the pace.
Truly I have experienced the mean-ness of compassion. That borderline compassion that feels so hateful at the time, like the sting of a wayward wasp, who sits for a second on your bare arm, inflicts his pain and flits away leaving heat and swelling, redness and itching. That's wrong . . . and it's why aerosol sprays were invented, so you can respond in justified wrath. Sometimes, when those who claim to represent God inflict "compassion" in ways of pain and flitting, they need to be shot down so they don't just fly around stinging others.
I have also experienced what seems to be the coldness of compassion. Zapped by truth in its most freezing and paralyzing form, left to drift and die on an iceberg in view of those who sip their drinks on the balcony of passing ships and point at me as I become smaller and smaller as the distance between us grows. They may be cruising on their own Titanic, but no one may know 'till the iceberg comes to view.
Lest this be seen as merely a meandering of woe is me, I have also experienced the compassion that is real and warm to the touch. A compassion that does not depend on determined distance but on intended closeness. Not on separation, but on walking with. I am amazed at the beauty and grace that some exhibit, pouring out in an immeasurable and constant flow the compassion that comes from an unlimited source. They heard and learned of God's truth and refuse to let the world's definition of it divide it into meaningless portions.
Maybe it takes a mix of compassion. Even the bitterness of detachment can be motivating. Perhaps the experiences we have of being cast aside and tossed away by those who discriminate not between sin and sinner, teaches us great things not only about consequence and condemnation, but also builds our own commitment to convey compassion that is not contorted. I find myself feeling compassion for those who have abused it; those who banged people about the head with love in the name of holy correction. I pity them because they share this world and when they fall, they will want to sample a compassion that rises far above what they themselves have shared.
But who do I really feel sorry for? I feel sorry for those who have suffered and cried and were not told that Christ had suffered and died so they could be freed from that. I feel sorry for those who have been drowned in the gushing carelessness of a compassion that tells them that they don't have to change, they don't have to address sin so they can swim in the cleansing lake of grace and emerge on the banks of freedom to walk free of the weight of who they were.
The harshness of "hate the sin, love the sinner," has, in the compassionate minds of the misguided, dissolved into a hollow "I love you just the way you are." No . . . you don't. If you really love them the way they are, you'll help them be what God intended them to be. I am so saddened for the young men and women whose parents, in selfishness, embrace their giving in to temptation so they can still have Sunday lunch and smile and pass the peas. Careless compassion causes us to place happiness above healing . . . and we have not because we ask not. The carelessly compassionate Christian prays for a perverted peace and discovers turmoil; proclaims acceptance and smothers a deeper and honest desire for change in the ones we love. This is not happiness; this is not healing; this is not helping.
Does it sound like I am not compassionate? Should we pick up a drunk on the sidewalk and help him back into the bar so he won't think we are judging him? Should we pause to tell a prostitute she might look prettier in a brighter shade of pink? Should we stock a few essentials in the cabinet for the visiting addict to cook his meth? Should we give a list of topics for the local church gossip to make her job easier? Look the other way when cheaters get a little careless so they won't get uncomfortable when revealed? We may as well paint a bull’s-eye on our shoulder to make it easier for the wasp to zero in.
Careless compassion can be as dangerous as not caring at all. I never wanted anyone to tell me that my sexual brokenness was just a cause for celebration. Unfaithfulness is unfaithfulness. Sin is sin. Lust is lust. Betrayal is betrayal. Deception is lying. Knowing God's Word and doing one's own will is willfully defying.
Wandering is wandering. If we're lost in a desert and we have a choice between a determined guide who knows his way out or a jovial, smiling and funny "it'll be okay, we'll find our way" sympathetic soul to walk with us until we drop in thirst upon the barren sand . . . who should we choose? I don't know about you, but I wanted out.
Some have not gone with me. Some may never believe I found an oasis and drank. Some are still back there at the edge of the desert telling the slowly-dehydrating that they'll be fine. "Just keep putting one foot in front of the other." Others are standing at the same edge and saying "you deserve it. The buzzards will be here soon."
Compassion is a gift from God that we can corrupt like everything else He gives us. Oh . . . but when it is presented in its perfect form, what healing takes place, what joy abounds, what grace flows and what beauty springs forth from the dry desert, shocking those who view it, like a brilliant and seemingly fragile butterfly that pauses on a morning glory. Imagine, that little fluttering thing that looks like tissue paper in flight can cross the continent and return again. It looks weak, but it is strong because it has learned to manage the currents and soar.
I have looked into the eyes of Christian parents seeking direction on how to love their children who are falling prey to the lies Satan is spinning at an ever-more-furious pace and which the world is reproducing and portraying in an ever-more-attractive display. How do we love those who are drowning in proud deception? How do we keep them close and yet speak a truth that often makes them want to expand the distance?
To love them less with this sin is a betrayal. We all sin in one form or another from the day we enter this world. Self-centeredness can take some nasty forms, but it is still that: seeking the satisfaction of the self. Our response is to be compassionate and giving of self.
In retrospect, reviewing the years of dog-paddling in my pool of sin, I realize I would only reach out to take the hand of ones who could see me as I am -- created like them in the image of God -- and accept me there with the compassion not of "love the sinner, hate the sin," but of "I love who you are as a child of God." These are the ones who went beyond tossing a vinyl ring with verses printed on it so I could ponder as I tooled around in the pool. They had no fear of the water. These are the ones who helped me out and showed me a stroke that does more than just keep your head above water, but actually moves you toward the side. They put more value on me than they did my sin. By showing me the value of me, they helped diminish the value of the sin onto which I held in my distress and it became less and less of a lifesaver as it became less and less of my life.