Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Understanding gives way to compassion

I have been close to my aunt and uncle my whole life. Their daughter is probably the closest thing I've had to a sister. As we grew into adulthood, I could sense resentment directed toward me. I didn't understand, and I felt angry toward her. I attributed it to her being a difficult person. While visiting her this summer, she shared some things with me that gave me insight and clarity. It's something that I wish I'd known all along. As I began to appreciate her experience, my frustration with her gave way to compassion and mercy. It is like a wall has been removed.

It is not always easy to understand the perspective of others. We cannot get inside the body or mind of another to understand her perspective. But we can acknowledge the reality that our situation is not the prototype. As a Christian woman, I have a particular background and life situation, but that is not true for all Christian women. I don't set the standard.

Last year, I had an opportunity to spend time with someone who had a very difficult past. She had issues that were beyond anything I could speak into. She referred to other girls with happy childhoods as those who had lived "charmed lives." She described the typical Christian fare directed to women as being only suitable for those women, not her. That was an eye-opening conversation, and it made me wonder how often I have been judgmental or critical of someone because I assumed her experience had to mirror my own.

I Corinthians 12:12-13 talks about the body of Christ:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews and Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
In the Church, we are tempted to think that our unity is from shared life experiences: we all feel the same way about how short a woman's skirt should be, which political figure to support, or whether homeschooling is bad or not. But those experiences are not what truly give us unity in the body. The most significant experience which we have in common is being baptized into the body of Christ; in being made to drink of one Spirit. That unity may foster shared opinions, but then again, it may not.

It is crucial that we understand what faith is; what the body of Christ is; what unity is. And that means studying and thinking deeply about God's word. And when we do apply Scripture, we must be careful to avoid a "one size fits all" approach. I've often wondered how single mothers react when they read that their children's spiritual health depends on a strong male presence in the home. What if that isn't a possibility? How do we encourage a woman in that situation? It can begin with something as simple as putting ourselves in the shoes of others and really ponder what that different situation is like on a practical, day to day basis.

It is easy to find unity in common preferences for incidentals. But it is a shallow unity. Real unity comes from a shared life in Christ, and it is practiced in an environment of different life experiences. The church is not a gathering of clones. Unity in Christ is not a process by which everyone finally comes around to my point of view. It's about loving someone in spite of the ways in which we differ. One of the ways we can foster compassion and mercy is to be willing to recognize and understand how we differ.

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