The Gift of Compassion

When one of my daughters was three years old, our extended family gathered for a large reunion. At some point, my daughter had a mishap that ended in tears, and she was on the lookout for someone to comfort her. As she walked through a room of adults, Uncle John rescued her. He picked her up and said, “Sweetie, I am so sorry. Is there anything I can do to help?” Compassion, of course, makes a difference. She was comforted. Tears ceased. From that moment on Uncle John became her go-to person for all things tragic. He loved her, she loved him back, and I loved him for loving her.

Compassion means that you love the person and are affected by his or her hardships, no matter how transient those hardships might be. They leave their mark. You remember them and are changed by them. Such a response takes you into the very heart of God, who chooses to place compassion at the fore­front of how we know him.

To an unlikely and unruly group of people, he revealed himself as, “The Lord, the Lord, compassionate and gracious God” (Exodus 34:6 NIV). Later, after generations of his people rejected him, he proclaimed, “My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused” (Hosea 11:8 NIV). His compassion is so prominent that it would not be dis­suaded even by betrayal. So we expect compassion to be on full display when God comes in the flesh.

Jesus was, indeed, moved by the misery that sur­rounded him. His compassion was certainly aroused. He searched out the leper, the lame, a woman shamed by her bleeding, a woman rejected because of her reputation, and the father whose daughter had just died. Compassion guided his ministry. When he planned to rest with his disciples, he was met by thousands of followers who had run to find him. His response to this change of plans? “He had compas­sion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). When he told the story of the prodigal son, his point was clear: the heart of God is his compassion. As he saw his son approaching, the father “felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).

As the writers of the New Testament epistles reflect upon Jesus and interpret what he did, the writer of Hebrews seizes upon compassion. He identifies Jesus as our high priest. Here the divine and human meet in the One who experienced the worst of human misery and truly understands our own. His priesthood changes everything. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

To offer compassion, we start by receiving it. Helping skills are built upon truly knowing the com­passion of your High Priest toward you. As a way to assess yourself, remember that simple test: Do you cry out to the Lord when your troubles accumulate? We naturally seek out another compassionate person when life is especially hard. If we don’t have such a person, our troubles might be expressed to an unsus­pecting neighbor or even the supermarket cashier. But do you also draw near to Jesus? The writer of Hebrews invites you to do so. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). When you take Jesus up on his offer of mercy and compassion, you are beginning to understand how things are done in his house.

  • You speak to him more often, with more confidence and boldness.
  • You notice more of the sufferings of others.
  • You pray that other sufferers would know the comfort of Jesus, and you ask them to pray with you.

So enter into the compassion of Christ, and pray that you would know it more.

Compassion will be expressed differently in each of us. For some of us it will be expressed in tears and strong emotions. For others it will be less visceral and intense. No matter how strong or subdued your emotions might run, compassion is a gift from God, which means you can pray to know more of the com­passion of Christ. His compassion for you will be the growth of your compassion for others. Then your growing, compassionate love will keep you from hurtful words and be the creative source for invent­ing apt ways to love a grieving person.

Excerpted from Someone I Know Is Grieving © 2023 by Edward T. Welch. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.

Someone I Know Is Grieving

Someone I Know is Grieving

In Someone I Know Is Grieving, Edward T. Welch leans on his many years of counseling grieving people to help readers learn from their compassionate Savior how to respond to people’s sadness and hard times without advice or trying to “fix it,” but to instead hear their story, learn from others’ experiences, and depend on the Spirit for wisdom for what to say and do.

About the author

Edward T. Welch

Edward T. Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at CCEF. He earned a PhD in counseling (neuropsychology) from the University of Utah and has a Master of Divinity degree from Biblical Theological Seminary. He has written extensively on the topics of depression, fear, and addictions.

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