Life’s important, not-fun lessons

by Kristin on October 30, 2013

in Love, family & community

Photo by metro thom

Lately, it seems like every life lesson that comes pummeling my way is on a mission to teach me about compassion.

And you know what? Compassion might be nice, but these lessons are NOT fun.

That’s because it turns out you can’t learn about compassion when life is good—when you’re writing brilliant blog posts four times a week and literary agents are knocking on your door; when you’re able to complete a knitting project without having to tear out a single row; when every major appliance and system in your house is working properly; when all of your kids are happy and getting As and keeping no secrets from you; when your marriage emanates so much fun and passion that all your friends are jealous.

No, you don’t learn about compassion when your life is cooperating in every way.

The most effective curriculum for learning compassion is drawn from moments like these: watching your daughter’s volleyball team lose a set 1-25, or watching your husband struggle for hours to fix the garage door opener, without success.

You learn about compassion when you’re feeling sorry for yourself because of a sinus infection or backache, then you sit next to a homeless woman at the lunch after church, or you get an email from a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer, and she shares with you how frightened she is—not just for herself, but for her husband and sons, and her parents.

The lessons come at you hard and fast when your child feels a deep sense of pain she can’t point to, and you can’t tend to.  When the mistakes of your past keep showing up in your present. When you need someone to talk to about difficult things, but you can’t begin to think of who that might be.

Then there’s that moment when you first catch a glimpse of what “survival mode” feels like—when ideals like “going above and beyond” and “thinking ahead” aren’t options because you’re just taking life a few hours at a time, hoping to get to the next day. And that feeling often carries with it guilt, because you don’t have the emotional energy to be engaged and present for anyone else right now. The guilt turns into a prayer that those around you will respond to your current status with grace, even if they aren’t aware of all that’s going on in your life.

Yeah, I know this whole theme is a downer. I suspect that’s why we tend to do everything we can to avoid exercising and growing our sense of compassion. Because developing those muscles hurts. The process involves looking at what’s going wrong in our own lives and admitting, “This sucks—and it could have gone differently, it could have gone better.” It involves getting angry at God and asking “Why?” but not getting any answers. It involves looking straight into the eyes of others who are experiencing difficult things, and recognizing the pain and disappointment they feel—even absorbing some of it into ourselves when we’d rather avert our eyes and go through the day as if we didn’t see anything.

These last couple of months have left me feeling spent, but I’m trying to be OK with that. Because I’m definitely more compassionate than I was before, and if there’s one thing I believe this world needs, it’s compassion. If nothing else, let’s not avoid the experiences that help us learn and practice it more.

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  • Natalie Hart

    Yes, life has been making me more compassionate, too…

    • kt_writes

      I’m sorry to hear that…I mean, I’m glad for everyone who is touched by your compassion, but sorry that you are feeling that weight.

  • Karyn

    Thank you for sharing this Kristin. It helps to know I am not alone in the struggles. Life can be so brutal; at times the pain and losses shake me to my core. There are no satisfying answers for the million “why” questions that scream in my mind. I don’t think it’s because God is not answering me, I think it’s because satisfying answers do not exist. -Not even for God. The brokenness and suffering of this world was never his intention, and he will never be satisfied until they are no more. Our aching hearts reminds us, neither will we. Until then, I am desperate to find strength to withstand it without becoming rigid and impenetrable. I ache with longing for some sense that he’ll make something beautiful from all the dust. So, I curl up in God’s presence, press my head to his heart, and ask him to make my heart like his. To this plea I often hear his
    answer: choose love and compassion.

    • kt_writes

      Yes. This. “The brokenness and suffering in this world were never his intention, and
      he won’t be satisfied until they are no more. Our aching hearts remind
      us, neither will we.” Thank you for sharing your heart, Karyn.

  • Nancy

    Beautifully written with wonderful perspective. Sometimes it takes realizing that we can’t control (nor did we dictate) ALL that happens in our lives, to realize that it is the same for others as well. There is always so much more going on than we can see.

    • kt_writes

      Absolutely! There is always so much more going on than we can see. Giving people the benefit of the doubt can be such a risky but important gift. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  • Nicola

    Sorry that it’s been a rough time, Kristin. I’m depleted by life right now, too. You can always call me if you need a distant but close friend.

    • kt_writes

      Thank you, Nicola. Sometimes a “distant but close friend” is exactly what a person needs. It sounds like you might need the same, so let me know!

  • Erin

    You are so very right. This is such a wonderful post, even though I know the reasons that enable you to write it are no fun.

  • RonSimkins

    Great challenge. Growing in character seems to be a lot like growing in physical endurance doesn’t it? Lots of practice and pushing ourselves until it becomes a bit more who we are. Thanks for the reminder.

    • kt_writes

      Exactly! And there’s always some pain, discomfort, and sacrifice involved along the way.

  • Alison Hector

    I hear you and resonate with what you’re saying, Kristin. Sometimes the “compassion classes” seem too much to bear when life is beating us about the head and shoulders. But when (or where) else can we truly develop our compassion muscle? At the corner of pain and giving. You’re right on point.

    • kt_writes

      I love how you put things. “But when (or where) else can we truly develop our compassion muscle? At the corner of pain and giving.” Yes.