I have learned to love the word COMPASSION.
Unfortunately, I haven’t always loved it. I spent a great deal of my life with a self-filled condition that locked my heart from experiencing compassion I’m not proud of it. I am embarrassed of that truth During a a difficult season people came and helped me with acts of compassion that changed my life.
Compassion is defined as the recognition of another’s suffering
and a desire to alleviate that suffering
My friend Julie Homrich, a psychotherapist, and I record a weekly podcast in which we merge faith and psychology In our most recent recording, we had a conversation about compassion Here are a few thoughts that she shared on this week’s Positive Talk Podcast:
“If you’re someone who, like me, heard about the shooting at Robb Elementary and felt both overwhelmed and frozen at first, I want to normalize that for a moment.
We talk a lot on this podcast about the fight/flight/freeze response, which happens whenever our nervous system feels threatened. So if you’re watching media coverage about a school shooting and you have a child of any age that attends a school— that feels threatening, right? Your nervous system is responding appropriately for that moment. The challenge is that many of us get STUCK in that nervous system response and don’t move THROUGH it. This keeps us in this low-level state of fear and anxiety instead of moving through that initial response into a state of compassion which leads to action I think many of our listeners can relate to this… after something tragic like that happens we just stay in this state of suppressed anxiety and don’t know what to do with it.”
I’ll bet that we have all been there. Friends, we have been created with an internal drive to move from feeling to action. That is why I have learned how critical it is to allow your soul to put this internal feeling of compassion into external action.
Again, Julie Homrich has a fresh thought on this compassion we feel:
“Once we notice a need or see a crisis like what happened at Robb elementary, an interesting thing happens in the brain. Our threat circuitry kicks in and up. We call it, empathetic distress, here we start to feel a bit of pain for someone else. Unfortunately, many of us get stuck in empathetic distress. When research scientists have studied compassion, they find that this process unfolds as we are moved to compassion, but that process can collapse at different points along the way.
Staying stuck in empathetic distress is not only unhelpful for society but it isn’t good for us either— we continue to walk around feeling anxious with no alleviation of that distress by avoiding and
not acting with compassion.
“Why do we do this? Well, several things can collapse the compassion process. We may minimize the crisis with the thought that it’s not really that bad. We might catastrophize the crisis, in that there is nothing I can do to help. We may have biases that keep us from engaging or we may begin to blame other people, or a lack of mental health accessibility or guns, or the president. Blaming is our mind’s way of shifting responsibility off of us because we either don’t know what to do or we do not think we can do about that. If you are prone to blame, recognize that is most often an attempt to shift responsibility. One remedy is to pause and ask yourself, “I cannot change them but what is my responsibility – right now at this moment?”
Please read these words closely, ; PUTTING COMPASSION INTO ACTION IS VERY GOOD FOR OUR MENTAL, EMOTIONAL, AND PHYSICAL HEALTH Again, my friend Julie offers these thoughts:
“God created our bodies to operate
at their best when we are showing compassion”
Get this, compassion is good for the hearts of those we serve, but it is GOOD for OUR hearts as well. Our bodies produce a hormone called oxytocin. When we show compassion, our physical hearts have built-in receptors for oxytocin. When oxytocin levels are high (when we are feeling and experiencing compassion), our heart receptors take in the oxytocin. Oxytocin helps our heart cells regenerate and heal from the damage that may have occurred through our lifestyle or even genetics. Oxytocin also serves as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It’s called the cuddle hormone because it is released by touch and helps us feel connected to whatever is right in front of us.” That is just one more way in which we can see a godly view of life connected with a psychological view of life.
“In compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there.”– Karen Armstrong
All of that leads me to the story I want to share with you today.
In my recent trips to Uvalde, Texas, I have met many extraordinary people, but one man has activated my compassion into action. Now and then, we meet someone that lights us up and moves our hearts toward being a better human. I met that guy in Uvalde.
Dr. Hector Lopez grew up in Uvalde, Texas. While in high school he, like many young Hispanic kids, dropped out of school to earn a living. While experiencing life as a high school dropout, his family moved to Chicago, where he went back to school, completed his high school degree, and then went on to college and earned his doctorate.
Dr. Lopez moved his family to Uvalde to take on a compassion-led task. He took on building and running a high school that serves students that once were dropouts.
That may not have registered with you, so allow me to state that again. A man with an earned Ph.D. voluntarily chose to serve as a principal of a “dropout high school.”
Crossroads High School serves kids that have not only previously dropped out of school, but many of them dropped out to raise their own kids. As a result of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School, and the ensuing plans to demolish that school building, Crossroads was displaced to a maintenance facility. To say that these high school kids have nothing is a vast understatement – They have nothing, but the love of a principal and his team.
“Give Compassion: Every day the average person fights epic battles never told just to survive.”– Ken Poirot
When I first met Dr. Lopez, I was amazed at his deep love for “his kids,” and “his faculty.” He could be a professor at a prestigious university, but chose to give of himself, and serve hundreds of kids over the past five years at Crossroads. He welcomed me into his world and quickly conveyed that he didn’t want to be a burden as so many other schools needed help as well, but one more time – they have nothing!
The parking lot is tiny and weed-filled. The grass, what little there is, was 2 feet high and completely unkempt. The three mobile units have a great lack of paint, and what paint still remains is peeling. The soffit is half attached and most of the siding is rotten.
I don’t say all of this to ask you to do anything. I am telling you this story to remind you what everyday people can do to make a radical difference. When Dr. Lopez’s story was told, and our team was in a position to hear it, compassion moved to action. When Julie unpacked this in the podcast, she offered this wisdom:
“Compassionate people are some of the grittiest, toughest, and most determined people because they are willing to enter into empathetic distress and move through it. To move beyond fear and uncertainty and self-doubt, into action. Brain studies of those experiencing compassion show that there are multiple areas of the brain being activated when someone feels compassion- there’s an area of distress but there’s also the area of hope – activated. When you are experiencing compassion and have that sense of connection to suffering, either your own or someone else’s, we see a very strong neural response connected to hope.” Therefore, ask yourself this question:
“Do I want to live an easy life
without deeper purpose
or do I want to take the risk to enter into a state of compassion and experience the depths of hope and
the connection that comes with that risk?“
As for me, I never feel more alive than when I am moved beyond the feeling of compassion, into the action of compassion. As I have spent time in and around Uvalde, I’ve been moved to act on compassion. Being around Dr. Lopez, I have been encouraged and my courage has been bolstered around this humble, gracious leader. Here is the real question. What is it that has occurred in your life that has moved you to compassion lately? If nothing is moving you to compassion, ask yourself these two questions:
- Am I (like Chuck has been) too self-absorbed to even sense compassion?
- Am I so busy with the natural flow of life that I cannot stop long enough to feel any compassion?
If the answer to either of those questions is even close to a yes, then you are literally robbing yourself of personal health, peace, and courage. You are most likely robbing yourself of emotional and physical healing. And you are definitely robbing yourself of the blessings that are yours when you draw near folks that are brokenhearted. God says that He draws near the brokenhearted and I want to be near God, don’t you? The closer I am to the Divine, the closer I am to His blessings. Put all of this together and who knows?
Maybe you, like Dr. Hector Lopez are the next in line to serve others in the role of Captain Compassion!
I’m certain that Dr. Lopez will someday read this and be amused that anyone might consider him in such a way. He is a brilliant man, wrapped in a lot of humility. That seems to be the very genesis of compassion – HUMILITY. And that leads us back to the two questions asked earlier.