I had this dream last night. It haunted me all day, its heavy, conflicting mood lingering on in my heart as I went about my tasks.
In the dream, I ran into an old friend. I came across him unintentionally, though we mutually proceeded to let the chance encountering transform into something more.. a “catch up,” one might say. We sat and talked calmly and peacefully, though, in the back of my subconscious dreamland mind, self-seeking motives and selfish desires pressed me on. This was until this person told me, in a sobering tone, that cancer had taken an undesirable hold over his throat. Upon this news, this anchor-heavy weight of long harbored feelings of resentment and jealousy I had unknowingly been clasping on to with a tight hold, immediately fell away, dissipated into vapors that were carried out to sea by swift, gusty winds.
All I was left with was an overwhelmingly sincere, earnest, and fervent COMPASSION for this soul, as I held him close in the most longheld and empathetic hug one could dream. I went on to stay by his side, in a fast forward effect, with only genuine intentions.Things that once would have made me red with fury and embarrassment were swept by with authentic love and compassion and grace.
Though the dream ended to this effect, with a pure feeling, something from it, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, followed me around all day. My actual day...
I’ll spare listing the tiresome details, for I just want to paint a picture of a feeling: A sunrise doctor’s visit and a new non-diagnosis, diagnosis for me. Two people in my life, both dear to my heart, one essential to the very heart of my life, hospitalized, with inconclusive statements for recovery. A handful of my students, all of whom I’ve found to hold a much closer place in my heart than I had ever imagined they would, making decisions that aren’t reflective of their highest potential. A million God-called acts of kindness pacing across my heart, taking a backseat to the extensive and overwhelming work, life, and home to do lists that guide me..
All day long, this overwhelming feeling that I couldn’t put my finger on nipped and nagged at my spirit. Deep breaths and concentration were what sustained me as I carried out my duties and obligations. And, in the midst of this, I kept going back to what I KNOW.
I know that God is always present.
I know that even when we cannot sense His presence, even when it doesn’t seem like he’s anywhere around, He never leaves us.
I know that God is always good.
I know that although the enemy seeps into the tattered seams of our lives and our minds, in pursuit of destruction, that God can take those very things meant for evil and use them for good.
I know that God is love.
I know that nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing - nothing we do, nothing we say, no place we go, no act of the enemy - can possibly separate us from His unrelenting love.
As I let these truths solidify as the earnest foundations of my heart and mind, I waited, expectant, for the Lord to move. I knew that He could take this unrest… this restless feeling that was swirling within my heart… and He could glean from it some lesson, some truth, some bright new revelation to paint upon my heart.
So I waited. I waited upon the Lord, ready for Him to show me a new thing, to make sense of the feeling. I took every thought that I found tempting me to dwell on misfortune and fall into pity and turned it away, declaring His truths over it, in His name. And He came.
I was reading scripture, the Gospel story found in Luke 10, when I came across the parable about the man on the side of the road. He had been brutally mugged and left to die, when he was passed by both a priest and a levite. It wasn’t until a Samaritan was passing by that anyone stopped to try to help the man. Jesus said that the Samaritan, “had compassion on him.” (Luke 10:33)
That’s when it made sense to me. Compassion. This parable was part of Jesus’s narrative demonstration of what it means to LOVE God and LOVE others, fully and well. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27.
In that moment, I could finally put my finger on the feeling that had been brewing within me from sunrise, to the draping of starry skies. Compassion. My heart was ACHING for the people around me; I was plagued by a burning sympathy that was propelling me toward action and prayer. A tenderness that was beyond what I was prepared to bear.
I felt God opening my eyes to catch a glimpse of His unconditional, compassionate love… how His heart breaks when He sees us in despair. I felt Him whispering that it’s okay to be brave, to be willing to be invested in others, to end the day exhausted because of the expansiveness in which I loved… that, in fact, that’s exactly what He has called me to, when He commanded us all to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Just this week that had been my prayer. Three days ago, I wrote, “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors as ourselves, but also to esteem others as better than ourselves.” I wanted to know what this meant. As someone who has been on a lifelong roller coaster of building myself up and tearing myself down, I wanted to know what it means to love another as oneself.
But today, I knew it. To love another as oneself isn’t just a FEELING. It isn’t even just an ACTION. It is all of these things.
To love another means to honor them with COMPASSION. Real, genuine, my heart feels what your heart feels, even if it hurts, compassion. The way I would feel if such circumstances were happening to me instead compassion. I think this is the kind of love that marked how Jesus lived. While I’m an innate sinner by the very facts of humanity, and am by no means capable of having a heart as expansive as His, I can still love vastly and freely, because I rely on His strength. His strength is the root of my spirit. I can begin to understand what it means to empathize with another, and to let that empathy be the love that stirs me on. I want my life to be a series of actions that are rooted from this kind of selfless, unrestricted love. Like in my dream, I want to drop the weights of pride, and the restraints of shame, and I want to hold the people who do life beside me up in a tangible, fearless way.