When my life is painful, it’s hard to think about anyone else. After all, it is my own illness that I can feel in my body. My own problems are the ones I constantly have to live with. It is the opinion of my own family or group of acquaintances that haunts me. My own anxieties are the ones that keep me up at night.
No, it’s no surprise that in the midst of our troubles we struggle to think of other people. If my own life looks like a war zone, then yes, it will be hard to have compassion on someone else.
However, just because it’s hard, is it impossible? Would it be bad for us if we tried to think about the sorrows or needs of others when we are facing our own challenges and griefs?
Certainly, there are moments when our own grief is so deep that for a short time we may struggle to notice much of anything else (as in the case of the unexpected death of a close loved one). However, generally I would say that even extreme personal suffering should not be able to quench the flame of compassion for other people. Even if my circumstances make me unable to do anything for other people, I should at least care about them.
Could caring about the grief and needs of others make me worse off? I do think that there is a call for wisdom here. We all know that some circumstances can make sufferers fragile, which may mean that we need to protect them from some level of troubling information. Maybe if I’ve suffered a lot I don’t need to know about every bomb that has recently gone off on this planet… But I do believe I should still care about the troubles my friend is having at her job.
Why does it matter whether or not people who suffer have any compassion for other people? Why is it such a big deal? I believe that it has to do with living out an important part of our humanity: love.
If you think about it, everyone’s suffering somehow. All of us have to be able to look beyond ourselves, to some extent. We really were made to reach out to fellow sufferers (think of examples from prison camps, recoveries after terrorist attacks, etc.). If everyone who suffers (in other words, every person on this planet) were to cease to show any compassion, then the world would become an awful place.
Ultimately, the call to love is summed up in these words, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s a very high calling, but a very good one. I have read where God said these words, and have also read how he lived them out, by sending his son to suffer and save us, giving us the perfect example of love. He really went above and beyond.
I must say, I still find it very hard to think about other people when I’m suffering. Caring about them is costly. Yet, not only is it the right thing to do for the sake of other people, it’s also beneficial for my own sake. It helps put my troubles in perspective. Mind you, my troubles don’t become any less troubling. However, suddenly I realize I’m not the only one who is suffering. I’m not alone.