I saw a man today who stopped me cold. I witnessed him from a distance and only in partial profile as he walked. From where I witnessed on the sidewalk, his familiar gait held my gaze as he turned into the building across the street. I never saw his face but his mannerisms, his step, even the cut of his hair and its color made my heart leap painfully. This man was the mirror image of a dear friend who had passed in recent years. I watched him from across the street until he vanished into the interior of the building he had entered, abruptly realizing that I myself had stopped walking.
Continuing on my way, my tasks began to melt from my mind as memories flooded. My friend was a mentor, often a counselor, full of anecdotal proverbs and humor. My friend inspired others, was strong in his convictions, was private with his emotions but protective of his family. My friend built up others and affected many. He was a principled man of integrity and character and unyielding in the face of adversity. I miss my friend.
I miss his unique laughter. I miss the camaraderie I often felt in his presence. I miss our friendship. There it is. I miss our communion, our regular interaction of person. He is present with our Father, dancing before the Throne now and I would never rob any person of that privilege. But a part of me is now absent in his absence. But a friend's passing isn't the only absence in many hearts.
What of friendship severed through betrayal? What of damage done? What of family that abandons during trial? What of those who claim the same Savior, fill the same sanctuary, but pay little heed to those across the aisle? What of those who promise prayer during adversity and present only silence?
Do we, any of us, walk these lines - ignoring the individual in our midst, letting cheerful words of "encouragement" empty of substantive action vomit forth upon those who are looking for that glimmer of Christ's compassion from others? Compassion defined is to "endure with". My friend was compassionate. Our camaraderie was filled with compassion for there was much "enduring with" in our friendship.
We are encouraged in the Word to be compassionate towards each other. This is not a grand idea or noble characteristic to aspire to. It does not require a short term missions trip to far off lands or even a large charity effort. Compassion will certainly move you to engage in these, but it is something more. Compassion should always be on you, ready to be shown to the person hurting in the office next to yours or the person in line behind you at the store. We should be putting it on every day like a garment.
"Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."
When others are experiencing the ghosts of remembrance of lost friendships, failed marriages and broken families it is compassion that is the healing balm to their wounded hearts. When sickness and suffering assail, it is compassion, not a casserole that binds the wounds, knits hearts, and strengthens. When death encroaches, whether it be physical or the death of dreams and aspirations, it is compassion, not a card that conveys the fullness of the love of Christ. But we shy from offering it because compassion requires that we give something - our own heart. We have to give a piece of our self to another to be truly compassionate and most are unwilling to take this step. It is impossible to be fully compassionate from a distance. One cannot be disengaged and be compassionate.
So in this, we have found it much easier to quiet the teachings on compassion, to gloss over the example our Lord set before us; to turn scriptures where Jesus was wrenched in his heart and being with compassion to heal and move into the masses into Sunday School stories of crowds happily gathered at his feet. In doing so, we create a disjointed and schizophrenic caricature of our Savior as a sometimes moody teacher and sometimes happy child-loving shepherd rather than the constant passionate, humble, gentle, compassionate, loving Lord that He is.
Though I do not believe people's spirits roam the earth post mortem, I am thankful to have seen my friend's "ghost" today. It reminded me of a great many things my Savior is calling me to walk out.