“Pay It Forward” is a movie about a middle school boy who, in response to his teacher’s assignment to change the world for the better, devises a plan he calls (you guessed it), “pay it forward.” The idea is this: instead of returning a favor received from another, the beneficiary responds by doing favors for three other people. I usually enjoy feel-good movies, and this is a feel-good movie.
I’ve come to realize that compassion has a phenomenon all its own: we are best comforted by those who have suffered what we now suffer, and our own compassion burns more deeply for others now experiencing the struggles we ourselves have encountered along the way. It flows not so much as a resolve of our will, but as a response of our heart. Have you seen it around you? Have you lived it yourself? Who, for instance, can understand the shock of a cancer diagnosis better than another who has absorbed the same? Who can come alongside one reeling from job loss better than those once similarly dismissed? Can anyone even begin to understand a life of addiction other those who have been humbled by its power and still live with its reality one day at a time? Injustices, unfaithfulness, grief—no matter our plight, it is generally the people who have pioneered these perilous paths before us who now strengthen us the most. And our deepest pools of compassion await those now navigating the raging rapids we ourselves once traversed.
To the church in ancient Corinth, St. Paul writes, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4). This truth hasn’t changed at all since the apostle penned it two thousand years ago, has it? People are still people, and God is still God. And His compassion still flows most freely through those who have known its comfort. People like you and me.
Who around us will cry silently for comfort today?
Lord God, please send me as your instrument of compassion so that others receive the comfort they crave. Amen.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Colossians 3:12)