This past Sunday we sang a hymn from Central America that always haunts me for days after singing it. The line that gets stuck in my brain is "The angels are not sent into our world of pain to do what we were meant to do in Jesus' name. That falls to you and me. . . ." The world around us is filled with people in pain; it usually takes effort to avoid seeing them. Often, however, that pain masquerades as anger, incompetence, impatience, superiority, or indifference.
What would it be like, for a day, to be able to actually see people's pain? This one hurts from arthritis. That one hurts from loneliness. The guy in the car next to you at the light just lost his job. The high school kid making your pizza has an alcoholic parent. The young woman at the gym just suffered her fourth miscarriage. The person next to you in the pew is dreading Thanksgiving dinner for one. The man on the corner asking for change is a veteran who can’t sleep because he has debilitating nightmares. Every person we encounter carries some kind of pain. Would seeing all the pain around us change our expectations of how life should work? Would it change the choices we make?
If the angels are not sent to do what we were meant to do, then it is important to figure out what falls to us to do. In cartoons we see an angel on one shoulder prompting us to do good things, and on the other, a devil inciting us to be selfish. This may be truer than we realize. In the Bible angels are messengers. They announce impending conceptions and warn of coming disasters. Maybe the compassion you feel is a message urging you to bring some relief to someone who is suffering. It seems that God has built and equipped us to help others in their pain.
What tugs at your heart? Children in pain or in need pull at my heart. Someone else may be moved by the elderly or the disabled; another person may be touched by the hungry in another land. Still others feel compassion toward homeless people or animals or those with terminal illnesses. You may feel compassion for veterans or widows or foster kids. Go with the thing that makes your heart hurt. Compassion with nowhere to go either sours into cynicism or paralyzes with guilt.
Our children also live in a world of pain. As you act on your desires to bring relief to someone’s pain, take the kids along. Explain why you help others and how it makes you feel. Don’t shelter them from the broken, hurting places in the world. Let them help you and give them the experience of making a difference somewhere. Then, when their own hearts feel compassion, they will have an idea of how to move from feeling to action.
Small acts of kindness send out ripples like a stone dropped into a pool. When you offer a little bit of pain relief to someone, you open the door for them to do the same. What falls to you?