Learning the Depths of Compassion the Hard Way
Updated: Aug 15
By Theresa Anthony
It’s easy to feel smug when life is humming along and everything’s going your way. The family is healthy, the kids are thriving, and hard work is finally paying off in your chosen career. I remember those times. You can’t resist feeling a bit prideful, as if through your own efforts these goals and dreams have come to fruition—as if you had the power to determine the outcome. Ha!
Boy, does life have a way a slamming your face to the pavement. Wake up call: If you are lucky (blessed) enough to have all the stars align for a given period, rejoice! It won’t last long.
My lovely little bubble didn’t just burst—it got blown to smithereens about a decade ago. All that bloated pride in being such a devoted mom of amazing kids was tossed to the wastebasket when my son, then a young adult, became hopelessly riddled with depression and alcoholism. This normal, healthy, young man with his whole life ahead of him was suddenly under vicious spiritual assault. Six years ago, he bought into the lies of the devil, who’d convinced him he was a worthless loser, and took his own life.
So, today I want to talk about compassion. I had always considered myself a compassionate person, always there for a loved one. I gave to charity and volunteered regularly at the local food pantry. My heart was always available for people who needed me.
And then I learned the true meaning of compassion.
Through my son's suffering I learned that:
· Compassion is expressed by loving someone regardless of the intense pain that their illness is causing you.
· Compassion is your heart swelling beyond measure when someone battling alcoholism makes a sincere commitment to sobriety, and even more so when you witness the devastation of their relapses.
· Compassion is accepting a completely different version of a loved one than the one you initially knew.
· Compassion means you feel immense heart-piercing sorrow when witnessing another’s suffering.
An excerpt from my book, My 13th Station, page 337:
Living through Matthew’s illness has left me very sensitive to
others who suffer. One day I was stopped at a signal in front of the
local Costco. A pedestrian began to cross the street and while I
watched him slowly walking I felt tears come to my eyes. This young
man, in his late twenties, was clearly an alcoholic. I recognized the
ruddy skin tone, the bloated belly, the glassy eyes. My heart went
out to him. I thought to myself, he is someone’s son, someone’s best
friend, or brother. He might be someone’s daddy. I wanted to jump
out of my car and plead with him to go get help. Instead, I just said a
little prayer for him, that he finds his way to treatment, and to God.
Compassion is seeing beyond someone’s brokenness. Instead of labeling or ridiculing someone struggling with mental illness or addiction, authentic compassion recognizes value in the person, in their humanity, and feels badly for their suffering. After all, no one chooses to become an alcoholic when they grow up.
Compassion demands that you separate any good deeds you do from your ego, that any acts of charity become utterly selfless. Compassion isn’t just a warm fuzzy feeling. No, true compassion actually hurts… and sometimes it hurts a whole lot.
Theresa Anthony is author of the memoir, My 13th Station