Not Quite Compassion (Pt. 1 of 3)

I’ve been with Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission for nearly two years and I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of compassion. It’s been a journey with numerous stops along the way. Each time I stopped, I thought I had arrived, only to realize the compassion road had barely begun.

Treating-Smashed-Fingers-e1444577788902My boys and I were in a rush to get out of the house for school. (as always) I was busy throwing their bags and coats in the trunk. Linc had already climbed in and was fumbling with his seatbelt. Sawyer was climbing in as I heard him slam the door closed. Suddenly, he screamed out in pain. He had shut the car door on his fingers.

I calmly walked over to his side of the car to see him yelling in agony. Immediately, I felt grateful. I looked at my hands and was so glad my fingers weren’t caught in the door. All ten of my fingers were free to move. I kept watching him screaming and felt so thankful I wasn’t experiencing that pain (and possibly never will) I took a moment to pray to God, thanking Him I was blessed with ten working fingers. All the while, Sawyer continued to scream for help.(1)


I used to organize youth group mission trips to Mexico. We’d go down with about 30 people to build houses in the Tijuana area. We’d sleep in a campsite just out of town that was guarded and had running water, then drive into town every morning. We’d build a one room house with wood and stucco. We’d take a picture with the family of us handing them the keys to their new front door. We’d pray for them and then we’d go back home (Usually stopping at In ‘N Out)

The whole way home, I’d hear many stories of kids being thankful for their big house back home. How glad they had hair gel, or air conditioning, or Netflix. I’d even get emails from parents thanking me for the change they saw in their child. Their son or daughter were less entitled or selfish. Some were even thinking about sending money to Mexico someday.

The memories of the trip quickly faded. Most of the kids went back to their typical consumeristic ways. They kept a picture of 30 white Americans standing in front of the finished house never to think of the family in that home again. It was poverty tourism. It was comparison.

Now, please listen.
I’m not saying this trip was bad and we were all horrible Christians for going down there to build a house. I’m just saying, it wasn’t quite compassion.

Compassion (as we all know) looks more like what really happened when Sawyer slammed his fingers in the car door.

I sprinted over to his side of the car, ripped the door open, freed his hand, and then scooped him up, and held him as he cried. We sat there in the driveway and I could care less we were going to be late for school. My only thought was taking care of my hurting boy. We rushed back in the house. I got some ice and a towel for him. I held him as I gently placed the ice on his finger. I kissed his fingers. I cried with him. We sat together for as long as it took for him to calm down. Then we made sure his fingers weren’t broken as he carefully wiggled them.

That’s closer to compassion. Compassion requires action and empathy. It usually inconveniences us. Compassion is always deeply relational and transformational.

Do you experience comparison or compassion when you…
Walk by one of your houseless neighbors?
Watch the single mother shuffle onto the bus with her two kids?
Read about 1,000 women who will be bought and sold in our city tonight?

Moved with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched him. “I am willing,” he said. “Be healed!”   -Mark 1:41

It’s natural to compare. It’s good to feel thankful. It’s nice to give money. But this is not quite compassion. God invites us to journey onward.

Stick with me, there are more stops on compassion road.


  1. Blatantly stole this illustration from our president at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission, Jeff Lilley. I’m so thankful for his challenging leadership in my life.