It’s not hard to be kind and generous to those whom we see deserving of our compassionate acts – taking a meal to a new mother or someone who’s ill, providing financial assistance to a family who is struggling out of no fault of their own, or offering periodic childcare for our close friends. But how much harder is it to have compassionate responses to people during their worst moments? Perhaps it’s someone with an illness or disease brought on by poor lifestyle choices, the disadvantaged family that chooses to have more children, or the child who burns her hand after you told her not to touch the stove. For some reason, we sometimes feel that a person does not deserve our help or empathy because their suffering comes from their mistakes or poor choices.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, quoting King Benjamin from the Book of Mormon, exclaims the same thing: “Are we not all beggars?” He continues by saying, “Perhaps some have created their own difficulties, but don’t the rest of us do exactly the same thing...Don’t we all cry out for help and hope and answers to prayers? Don’t we all beg for forgiveness for mistakes we have made and troubles we have caused? Don’t we all implore that grace will compensate for our weaknesses, that mercy will triumph over justice at least in our case? Little wonder that King Benjamin says we obtain a remission of our sins by pleading to God, who compassionately responds, but we retain a remission of our sins by compassionately responding to the poor who plead to us.”
Christ was the ultimate teacher of compassion and charity. He lived his life to teach us a higher law and a higher way to be. Responding with compassion is what Christ did and is the way that brings growth and progression to us. Three personal experiences have proved to me that responding with compassion after Christ’s pattern is the way to heal hearts and help people want to be better.
1. Living in the city, we often take the subway or bus to get where we need to go. One day my son and I were on a bus when we noticed a mother and her toddler daughter. The toddler had a lot of playfulness in her, and I could tell that her mother’s patience was quickly fading. To get her to comply, the mother began to repeatedly hit her child and threatened more if she didn’t stop crying. This was the first time my son had seen a parent hit their child and we both sat there shocked. It was very disturbing to watch, but then I noticed a woman scoot in a little closer to this family. She started with a smile and some small talk, perhaps as a distraction to the mother, but then she began to empathize with her and relate that it’s hard to be a young mother. The mother softened and confessed what troubles they were having that day and in their life. Then I noticed how the mother grew gentler with her daughter and began to smile. It was awful to witness a child being hurt, but I left with hope that maybe the next time this mother will be able to respond to her child with compassion because someone else had shown compassion to her. In my mind, I compare our experience with a different way the scenario could have played out: in this case, a bystander (probably angry and saddened) gets upset with the mother for hitting her child. The mother then becomes even more hostile and nothing gets resolved. The outcome is undeniably different when someone reaches out with charity in their heart. I’ve found that people who hurt others are people who are hurting inside themselves, and the best way to help them heal is by the touch of the Master’s hand.
2. Our downstairs neighbor sometimes plays his music really loudly. One Sunday afternoon, I had had enough and I was complaining that I could not enjoy a proper Sabbath day with all the noise. I banged on the floor hoping he’d get the message, but the music continued to blare. I got myself all worked up in anger, and I demanded that my husband go down and tell him to stop. My patient husband went downstairs and talked with our neighbor. He returned to tell me that our neighbor’s wife was in the hospital, and this is how he likes to unwind. He promised to be more cognizant of the noise in the future. Suddenly I felt a little guilty. The next day, I made a large batch of chicken noodle soup for dinner and we thought it would be nice if we took some to our downstairs neighbor. Our neighbor was shocked and delighted and said that no one had ever brought him dinner before. He was so thrilled that the next day, he brought us a little gift basket and has since brought us other dinners and gifts. I feel peace in my heart about how we handled the situation and made a new friend, rather than letting myself stay aggravated and missing out on the opportunity to spread kindness to another person.
3. Having compassion in parenting is essential, but it can be extremely disheartening to have a child who hurts their siblings or parents when they get upset. Our son is prone to having explosive behaviors and after much trial and error, we have found that trying to deal with him through "disconnecting" with him doesn't work long term and usually exacerbates the situation. One evening when I was home alone with him, he got very upset and there was lots of hitting and yelling from him. I looked into his eyes and reminded myself that he was having a hard time, not giving me a hard time. I knew that his behaviors were because he was hurting inside and that I shouldn’t take it personally. With that perspective, I was able to maintain my patience and give him limits ("I won’t let you hit me"), while conveying a loving tone in my voice that told him he was safe and I would be there for him during his hard time. Once he softened, he began to cry and tell me all the things that were bothering him and all the feelings he was having. I was able to be calm and listen, and we talked through some solutions. That night ended with feelings of connection between us and with a feeling contentment from knowing we had plans in place for the problems he was having. That would not have been possible if I had shouted back at him, spanked him, sent him to bed early, or took away privileges for hitting me – all of which I felt like doing in that moment. I’ve learned that the more we parent with compassion, the fewer outbursts he has. As he matures each year, it becomes easier for him to come talk to us before he gets too upset.
President Thomas S. Monson explains charity beautifully, “In speaking of charity…I have in mind the charity that impels us to be sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful, not only in times of sickness and affliction and distress but also in times of weakness or error on the part of others. May we recognize that each one is doing her best to deal with the challenges which come her way, and may we strive to do our best to help out.”
"Are We Not All Beggars?" by Elder Jeffery R. Hollandhttps://www.lds.org/general-conference/2014/10/are-we-not-all-beggars?lang=eng
"Charity Never Faileth," by President Thomas S. Monson
Jefra Rees is the wife of a loving husband and the mother of a young son with sensory processing challenges. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Child Development and also has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Special Education, both from the University of Texas at Austin. She has worked with children and families in a variety of settings, but her greatest work is that which is done in her own home.