Times are tough everywhere it seems. So where do we focus the wisdom of ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’ (the Bible, Mark 12:31 NIV) appropriately? This was one of our light dinner table discussions recently! Is now the time to take the pressure off of ourselves because we are in pain – and just cope with our current reality? Or can we cope with a little more, like loving our family well? Maybe our immediate, local neighbours too? But then there is an environmental crisis that needs to be urgently addressed, a worldwide COVID disaster, not to mention the plight of groups around the world in extreme circumstances (in Afghanistan and Lebanon, trafficked people, desperate refugees, flood and fire-ravaged communities, to name a few).
This dilemma came into focus last week, when I reacted to a blog comment suggesting we just focus on our local community. ‘But that doesn’t work’, was my inward scream as the international list of woes cited above came rushing to the forefront of my mind. The reality is that we now live in a globalised way – and we know about the suffering of others. We can’t simply turn the clock back to just living locally. Yet, how much can we realistically take, when we have very serious lockdown pressures in our mix?
The Biblical example in Mark 7:24-37 (NRSV) of the Syro-Phoenician woman’s plea to Jesus was helpful to me. (This is not usually a favourite passage!) The woman came from outside of Jesus’ focal group, at a time he wasn’t welcoming visitors, with a request. You can almost hear the weary sigh. He is none-too-polite with her, delving to see if he’s going to expend his energy on this one. She responds to his off-putting opener with humility and great faith. Hence, Jesus relents and grants her wish. I learn that Jesus focused on his ‘main game’ (the local Jewish community), without putting blinkers on everything else, remaining warily open and compassionate to extending his boundaries. He weighed the situations outside of his chief focus with more care, balancing them with his own needs for downtime.
This sits well with me. We have a certain capacity to cope with the world’s pain, depending somewhat on the amount of pain we are personally experiencing, and our inherent ability to cope. To have an intentional scope of compassionate influence, helps us make the space to respond to these people and situations with relative ease. However, we also need to let our compassion have its way in other areas, but not too often, lest we become exhausted. This is where the weighing comes in, the listening to our hearts, combined with the facts.
Responding compassionately has a great side benefit too. It tends to take our eyes off of ourselves for a while and provide a by-product of joy in helping another.
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The articles here were written by Peter Andrews on behalf of the Chaplaincy Team from beginning 2023.