Wednesday, August 18, 2010

To Suffer With

Compassion - sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it
(from Latin, com- meaning "together, with" + pati meaning "to bear, suffer")

We found out a few days before the kids started back to their small private school that both of Gracie's best friends would not be returning this year. The first we knew of at end of last year. It was disappointing, but there would be other opportunities for the girls to see one another, and Gracie still had one good friend left to spend the school year with. And now, we had learned that this second friend would be attending school out of of town.

Needless to say, Gracie was quite discouraged. Sure, there were other girls (a couple) in her class, and there were bound to be one or two new girls (there are), but these were her two best friends. I put her to bed that night, knowing that she needed some comfort, but not quite sure of what to say to her. For a while, I just laid with her. Finally, I offered, "Do you want to pray the Psalm?"

Fairly often (but not nearly often enough, I'm afraid), we pray through Psalm 23 while I put the kids to bed. Normally it's simply a recital of the words, and though God's Word is always powerful, we do not often see its immediate effect. But over time, if you allow it, even a dripping facet will fill up a pool. This night, the words of the Psalm called to the depths, and we swam in its waters. She repeated after me: "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear... for You are with me." My eyes became pools of their own in the beauty of that moment.

Now, the school year is underway, and Gracie is doing well. She has taken responsibility for making the new girls feel welcome and befriended. But there is a new boy in her class as well. You might say this boy is... well, different. At least, that's probably what the other boys would say about him if you were to ask. That, or something worse. Gracie described to Katie how he sits alone at the lunch table and how the other boys scold him harshly for dropping an easy catch in P.E. She has asked some of the boys to reach out to him, but to no avail. Gracie feels troubled about this, but also feels bound by the awkward sixth grade social rules. She can be a friend to him, but it's another thing to be his best friend. He is a boy, after all. Still, he's different, and to Gracie that's a good thing.

When Katie explained to me what Gracie had told her and how Gracie was feeling, I was proud of her, but not surprised. We have tried to teach Gracie to be a compassionate person. We have sponsored children from Compassion International. We have taken her around the poor and broken as our church has served them. We have tried to exhibit compassion in our own lives, none of this done perfectly, mind you. But when I saw Gracie's compassion in that story, it hit me what we had really been teaching her all along. We taught her heart how to hurt. We taught her that's its not enough to be happy that you aren't the loser; Christ calls us to hurt with the loser. I am convinced Gracie could be among the most popular in her class. She is one of the oldest (and prettiest), and it is a small school, after all. She is accepted. And yet... she chooses to hurt for those who are not.

We have taught our little girl how to have a broken heart. But we have also taught her "I will not fear, for You are with me." When we suffer with others, our God also suffers with us. He is with us. And He blesses us. "Blessed are the merciful, they shall obtain mercy." They say it is lonely at the top. But we are never alone at the bottom. Even at lunch tables. Even when your friends are gone.

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